A former Penn State majorette on Wednesday filed a lawsuit against the university alleging it failed to protect her from relentless bullying and harassment by her coach.

Kaitlyn Wassel’s federal civil rights complaint accuses former majorettes coach Heather Bean of fat-shaming, sexual and gender-based harassment, discrimination and retaliation throughout Wassel’s four years at the university. The experience, according to the lawsuit, caused Wassel to develop an eating disorder and mental health issues and attempt suicide.

“Bean’s harassment was devastating and all encompassing,” Wassel’s attorney, Andrew Shubin, wrote.

Penn State is the only defendant named in the lawsuit filed in the U.S. Middle District Court of Pennsylvania, which also contains similar allegations from four other former majorettes, who are identified as numbered witnesses.

Wassel, of Maryland, earned a spot on the majorettes team, which is part of the Blue Band, upon enrolling at Penn State in 2018 and claims that Bean’s harassment began almost immediately. Bean, Shubin wrote, deliberately provided her with a uniform that was too small, prohibited her from exchanging it or having it altered and told her that she would have to wear it throughout her four years on the team.

The harassment led Wassel to develop an eating disorder that persisted throughout her college years, according to the filing.

“During virtually every practice session, Bean reprimanded Kaitlyn about her eating, body shape and the fit of her uniform,” Shubin wrote, adding that the alleged bullying continued throughout Wassel’s four years at Penn State. “She forced Kaitlyn to wear the ill-fitting uniform as a means to shame her and make her feel that she did not comport with what a woman should look like — routinely in front of her teammates.”

Wassel says that when she was sexually assaulted by another student during her freshman year, she turned to Bean, who “became enraged and threatening.” She accuses Bean of ordering her not to report the assault, regularly calling her a “slut” and a “whore,” and telling other team members to stay away from her because she was “a bad person.”

When a lice infestation broke out among the team, Bean allegedly told Wassel it was her fault “because she was ‘such as whore’ and that the team was lucky that she did not spread an STD to them,” Shubin wrote.

From the time Wassel disclosed the assault through her final performance at Penn State football’s Jan. 1, 2022 Outback Bowl game, Bean allegedly called her regularly on nights and weekends demanding to know her whereabouts and information about her personal and social life.

In 2019, when another team member initiated a complaint against Bean that was ultimately dismissed by the university’s Office of Sexual Misconduct and Prevention, Bean allegedly told Wassel that she had friends in the school’s ethics office and that Wassel would be kicked off the team or expelled if she ever reported her.

When Wassel became a team captain in 2020, the bullying intensified, Shubin wrote. Bean allegedly arranged for team photos to be taken when Wassel was not present, enlisted a teammate to share Wassel’s geolocation tracking data from a social media app and directed a teammate to “aggressively bully” Wassel about her social life.

Bean told Wassel that she deserved “everything that’s coming” to her and that “you should think about why you deserved to be bullied and fix yourself,” according to the lawsuit.

“Bean’s name calling, weight and sex-based comments became increasingly frequent and vicious, and Kaitlyn’s already precarious mental and physical health precipitously declined,” Shubin wrote.

Wassel was “happy, healthy, well-adjusted and driven” prior to attending Penn State, but “suffered debilitating and frequent panic attacks as a result of Bean’s abuse,” as well as sleeping problems and trouble focusing on classes, Shubin wrote.

In March 2021, Wassel was hospitalized for multiple days after attempting suicide. Bean allegedly told the team about her condition and characterized her as being “dramatic” and a “faker.”

Bean’s superior, Blue Band Director Gregory Drane, told Wassel and her parents he was aware of Bean’s behavior, but it continued, Shubin wrote. Drane was “dismissive” of Wassel’s complaints during a meeting that included Bean and stripped Wassel of her captaincy, according to the filing.

Through her final semester in the fall of 2021, Wassel says, Bean continued to harass and disparage her.

After graduating in 2022, Wassel joined then upperclass members of the majorettes team in filing formal complaints about Bean. A February 2023 letter summarizing the joint investigation by the offices of affirmative action and human resources stated that many of the allegations were corroborated and violated university policy, Shubin wrote.

The university, however, could not discipline Bean because she resigned in the fall of 2022 after 27 years as majorettes coach.

Shubin wrote that Penn State failed to take action on prior complaints.

“Bean, PSU’s majorette head coach since 1994 until her Fall of 2022 resignation, amassed a record of competitive successes, including winning national championships for Penn State,” he wrote. “Sadly, the University prioritized the prestige Bean brought to the University over the safety and well-being of its students; it valued its reputation over its integrity and Kaitlyn and other majorettes were predictable causalities.”

Wassel’s lawsuit claims Penn State violated Title IX, the law prohibiting sex-based discrimination in schools, and the Equal Protection Clause.

She is seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

The post Former Majorette’s Lawsuit Against Penn State Alleges Harassment and Bullying by Ex-Coach appeared first on StateCollege.com.

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