The woman who filed a $7.5 million sexual harassment claim against former UA football coach Rich Rodriguez last month has submitted an additional $8.5 million claim against the University of Arizona, saying that the school is liable for Rodriguez’s conduct.
Melissa Wilhelmsen, Rodriguez’s former administrative assistant, says that she was subjected to assault and sexual harassment by Rodriguez, and a hostile work environment within the athletic department, according to the claim filed Friday with the Arizona Board of Regents and obtained by the Star on Saturday.
The document says that Wilhelmsen and her husband also have claims against Rodriguez for slander, defamation and false light, invasion of privacy and intentional infliction of emotional distress stemming from Rodriguez and his wife’s conduct after his firing — including “statements to football players at a team meeting on January 9, 2018.” Rich and Rita Rodriguez spoke to the players in a team meeting run by interim head coach Marcel Yates on that date. It was not immediately clear if any additional legal action had been filed.
Rodriguez was fired Jan. 2 after news of Wilhelmsen’s initial claim was made public. In that document, which was filed with the Arizona Attorney General’s Office, Wilhelmsen says Rodriguez sexually harassed her for more than a year and forced her to lie to his wife to cover up an affair with another woman. The UA hired Kevin Sumlin a week ago to replace him.
The claim says that the UA acted negligently and is “vicariously liable” for Rodriguez’s actions, which he committed while working for the school.
The newly filed claim follows the same timeline as the initial claim, saying that Wilhelmsen’s treatment while employed at the UA began to deteriorate in 2013, when Rodriguez introduced her to “The Hideaway Book” and “The Triangle of Secrecy.” Wilhelmsen says she was also forced to begin lying to Rodriguez’s wife and children about his ongoing extramarital affair.
Both claims list several instances when Rodriguez was physically inappropriate with Wilhelmsen — brushing up against her breast, trying to kiss her and making comments about his genitals and underwear.
While the second claim lists Rodriguez, his wife and the University of Arizona as defendants, it also mentions by name several athletic department employees who were part of the hostile work environment that Rodriguez “created and fostered.”
Those employees include:
- Former UA recruiting coordinator and general manager Matt Dudek, who Wilhelmsen told about an incident in which Rodriguez called her into his office and “grasped” his penis while carrying on a conversation, and had previously had “several conversations about the sexual harassment and the hostile work environment created by Rodriguez.” The claim says that Dudek witnessed such behavior and heard about it from others.
- Assistant athletic director Mike Parrish, who the claim says Wilhelmsen complained to several times about Rodriguez’s harassment. “While sympathetic to her situation,” Parrish failed to act, saying “we can’t afford those kinds of problems right now.” Parrish worked under Rodriguez at West Virginia and Michigan before following him to the UA.
- Senior associate athletic director Mike Ketcham, who would not help Wilhelmsen facilitate a transfer to another department within the university and later acknowledged that he “generally knew that Rodriguez had harassed her.”
- Staff analyst Dusty Rutledge, who made a comment to Rodriguez about Wilhelmsen using her sexuality to raise funds.
The UA announced Rodriguez’s firing in a press release Jan. 2, saying that the school’s Office of Institutional Equity had received a sexual harassment complaint about Rodriguez in October, and hired an outside law firm to investigate.
Wilhelmsen refused to cooperate with the investigation, the release said. Wilhelmsen’s second claim appears to shed light onto what happened after she filed the complaint.
On Oct. 26 — after Wilhelmsen had left the UA and began working with a local insurance agent — she called the UA’s human resources department to complain that her daughter, who still worked in the athletic department, was being given more work hours than allowed for a student. When she identified herself, she was transferred to an equity officer who said she was investigating Rodriguez’s conduct. Wilhelmsen agreed to meet with the woman, who said she had been trying to reach her and that the UA “knew that she left because of what Rodriguez did to her.”
The claim says that the woman’s follow up questions “rekindled” Wilhelmsen’s fear that “heads will roll” and other people would lose their jobs, and that any comments she made might get publicized. Wilhelmsen decided it was best to consult with an attorney before saying any more.
The most recent claim says that Wilhelmsen and her husband will settle “all claims” they may have against Rodriguez and the UA for the requested $8.5 million. It’s unclear if settling the second claim will mean that the first is withdrawn; Wilhelmsen’s attorney, Augustine Jimenez, wasn’t immediately available for comment.
The Board of Regents has 60 days to respond to the claim before Wilhelmsen can pursue it in court.