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Radwan v. University of Connecticut Board of Trustees

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

December 14, 2017

NORIANA RADWAN, Plaintiff,
v.
UNIVERSITY OF CONNECTICUT BOARD OF TRUSTEES, WARDE MANUEL, LEONARD TSANTIRIS AND MONA LUCAS Defendants.

          RULING ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION TO DISMISS

          Victor A. Bolden United States District Judge

         Noriana Radwan filed this lawsuit pro se on December 19, 2016, alleging that the University of Connecticut and several of its employees violated her rights under both federal and state law when they rescinded her athletic scholarship. Defendants now move to partially dismiss the Complaint.

         For the reasons stated below, the motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         I. FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Noriana Radwan (“Plaintiff” or “Radwan”) first enrolled at the University of Connecticut (“UConn”)[1] in 2014 as a full-time student and recipient of an athletic scholarship to play soccer at the school. Compl. ¶¶ 8, 10-13. Each of the defendants in the present case served a function within UConn's athletic program. Warde Manuel (“Manuel”) was the Director of Athletics at UConn. Id. ¶ 3. Leonard Tsantiris (“Tsantiris”) was the head coach of the women's varsity soccer team. Id. ¶ 4. Mona Lucas (“Lucas”) was the Director of Student Financial Aid Services and coordinated the scholarship Radwan received to play for the UConn women's soccer team. Id. ¶ 5, 11.

         Before her arrival on campus, Radwan alleges she was sent a letter by Lucas offering a “‘Full Out-of-State Grant-in-Aid' conditional athletics scholarship.” Id. ¶ 11. Accompanying the letter was a letter of intent “providing a good-faith commitment to attend” UConn and a contract that would govern the provision of the scholarship. Id. ¶¶ 12-13. The contract provided that Radwan would abide by the rules and bylaws set out by the university and the NCAA. Id. ¶ 13.

         Radwan enrolled in UConn and joined the soccer team. Id. ¶ 12. On November 9, 2014, Radwan and the UConn's women's soccer team traveled to Tampa, Florida, to play in the American Athletic Conference (“ACC”) Championship. Id. ¶ 14. UConn defeated the University of South Florida in penalty kicks, earning an automatic place in the NCAA Division I championship. Id. During the celebrations on the field immediately following the victory, Radwan showed her middle finger to a television camera, a gesture broadcast on ESPNU online. Id.

         Tsantiris later confronted Radwan with a picture of the gesture, allegedly noting that “it was all over the Internet and television.” Id. ¶ 15. He then allegedly told Radwan that he had to suspend her from all team activities, and prevent her from playing in the NCAA Championship Tournament. Id. Tsantiris then issued a press release characterizing Radwan's action as an “obscene gesture.” Id. ¶ 16. Radwan alleges, however, that she continued to prepare for the 2015-2016 season, with no indication initially that her scholarship would be revoked. Id.

         On December 19, 2014, Tsantiris allegedly called Radwan and notifed her of the cancellation of her scholarship because of the incident in Tampa. Id. ¶ 30. On that same call, Tsantiris allegedly advised her not to attend UConn in the spring. Id. ¶ 35. In subsequent calls, Tsantiris allegedly told her she might come back after a semester away from UConn, but that “if she appealed his decision that he would not help her transfer to another school and she would not be given a good recommendation.” Id. ¶ 37. Radwan then received a letter from Lucas canceling her scholarship. Id. ¶ 39.

         Radwan alleges that, in the years following UConn's revocation of her scholarship, male student-athletes at UConn have “engaged in similar acts of unsportsmanlike conduct without an affect on their scholarships.” Id. ¶ 63. She alleges that these incidents were more serious than the one at issue in this case, including:

• A football player who kicked a “dead ball” into the stands in celebration, but was not subject to formal discipline, id. ¶¶ 64-65;
• A freshman football player who remained on the team after being involved in a fight, during which five people were injured and the player was charged with third-degree assault and second-degree breach of the peace, id. ¶ 68;
• Several basketball players who were initially suspended for violating team rules in a manner “not known to the Plaintiff at this time” but eventually reinstated, id. ¶¶ 83-86.
• Several disciplinary incidents involving UConn athletes obtained through a Connecticut Freedom of Information Law request, id. ¶¶ 71-73.

         She alleges that these incidents demonstrate that “UConn subjected the Plaintiff to a more severe penalty for her Incident than it did for male student-athletes who were believed to have engaged in more serious misconduct . . . .” Id. ¶ 87.

         Additionally, Radwan alleges that Tsantiris went on a recruiting trip before the incident, and wished to secure the transfer to UConn of another player. Id. ¶ 40. She claims that Tsantiris “needed the Plaintiff's grant-in-aid to complete a full out-of-state scholarship offer he wanted to make” and that Radwan's “aid was used to complete” that out-of-state scholarship. Id.

         Radwan filed the Complaint pro se,[2] alleging that UConn had violated Title IX, 20 U.S.C. § 1681. Additionally, she alleged that, under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, defendants Manuel, Tsantiris, and Lucas had violated her First Amendment rights and her equal protection and procedural due process rights. Finally, she alleged two state law claims ...


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