By ESTER SALGUERO
In March, Juliette Landphair, Vice President for Student Affairs, sent out a statement on behalf of the university and its staff announcing that the University of Mary Washington settled a lawsuit with Jasmine Orsted. A former student, who said that she felt racially discriminated against after being cut from the women’s basketball team before her tryout date.
As it is stated in the email, “without admission of liability or wrongdoing by the University, its coaches or employees, the University has agreed to pay [Orsted] $160,000 in full settlement of her remaining claims.” The statement said that the university and its staff members are not culpable or legally responsible for what happened to Orsted.
But a review of court records, publicly accessed through Richmond’s Eastern District Court, revealed that the women’s basketball coach Deena Applebury misstated some details when speaking with UMW investigators about her reasoning for dismissing Orsted. Kenneth Tyler, director of athletics, was present during the interview and had knowledge of inconsistencies in Applebury’s retelling of events. The court records do not explicitly state that any of the false impressions were intentional.*
Orsted approached the school in August of 2014 about playing on the women’s basketball team. Applebury watched a video of Orsted playing on the Internet. She agreed to allow Orsted to begin practicing with the recruited players. Orsted was hopeful of securing a spot on the team and registered for an athletic course, which was to be held in the spring of 2015.*
During the fall semester of 2014, two separate complaints of racially charged remarks among members of the UMW women’s basketball team were reported by Caitlyn Riley and Jasmine Orsted, who were both trying out during the same season.
Their complaints were jointly investigated at that time by Sabrina Johnson, the associate Vice President of Human Resources and Leah Cox, Special Assistant to the President for Diversity and Inclusion. In the interview, Applebury said that she filed the complaints on Oct. 8, six days earlier than the documented and reported information by human resources, according to Johnson’s testimony.
On Oct. 2, Applebury called Orsted and asked her to come to her office. This was the day that Orsted was cut from the team before her tryout date, which was agreed to be on Oct. 15. Orsted’s mother drove her to this meeting and advised her daughter to record the conversation.
She kept a journal of the comments made by teammates and covertly recorded conversations between her and Applebury. Orsted asked Applebury to address her concerns and the racially charged comments that the team members were laughing about.
According to a Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment, no immediate action was taken after Orsted reported her complaints to Applebury. UMW policies require administrators and university personnel to act promptly after receiving any complaints of racial discrimination. According to the memorandum, Tyler did nothing for six days until Vice President Douglas Searcey contacted him about the complaints. However, the university’s own pleadings show that Applebury immediately reported the information to her supervisor Ken Tyler and additionally conducted her own investigation by interviewing the other black students on the team.*
Orsted filed her lawsuit on Sep. 2, 2015. Prior to this date, Applebury was confronted by UMW investigators about why she decided to cut Orsted before her tryout date. Vice President Searcey told investigators that he was well aware how Orsted was “denied a chance to tryout,” according to the court records.
Applebury told UMW investigators that she cut Orsted from the team because it did not look like she had good chemistry with her teammates.
Edward Hegmann, a former UMW athletics director from 1976 to 2012, said in his testimony that, “it is the very role of a coach to help players develop the chemistry the coach seeks,” rather than expecting members to instantly make connections with teammates. Pre-season activities are also optional and anyone can participate in them, according to the syllabus.
Hegmann also said in response to Orsted’s early cut that “it is unheard of for a prospective student athlete to be barred from tryouts on the basis of an alleged failure to bond with team members.”
When dismissing Orsted from the team, Applebury told her, “I have to go with the group because it’s a team sport, for right, for wrong or otherwise,” which Orsted gave as evidence from her recordings. The day that Orsted was dropped from the team she was also taken off the Group-Me chat by an unknown individual.
Later in the legal battle, Applebury switched her reasoning for cutting Orsted from not ‘fitting-in’ with the other members to saying that there just weren’t enough spots on the roster and that Orsted “did not have the skill level or capability needed to play for the UMW women’s basketball team.”
She made these decisions without having watched Orsted play live and only having seen a few minutes of a video of Orsted playing for NOVA, which the assistant coach found on the internet.
According to Tyler, “any good coach would tell you [that coaches] differentiate between video and live [since] effort, interaction with teammates [and] interaction with coaches is not able to be seen on film but it is able to be observed if you’re there live,” according to the court files.
However, Applebury’s testimony about not having enough room on the roster was false. According to court records, Applebury sent Tyler a list of the rostered players which included Orsted’s name shortly before she decided to cut her from the team. In the joint interview, Tyler said nothing while Applebury misrepresented documented information.
On Oct. 9, Tyler met with Orsted’s parents. He discussed the reasons behind Applebury’s decision and denied Orsted’s claims about team members making racially charged comments.
Tyler said towards the end of the meeting, “You can have a tryout if that will make you happy.”
This upset Orsted’s parents and they told Tyler that they wanted to meet with Applebury to discuss what had been occurring and to hear from her that Orsted would be given a fair tryout. However, Tyler did not accept their request and said that Orsted would be able to tryout only on the established date.
After Orsted was given the opportunity to tryout again, she was worried that she did not have enough time to prepare for the date, since she had been dropped from the Group-Me chat and did not know when the drilling, scrimmaging or practices were being held.
The court records gave evidence of the types of comments which were made by the teammates. Some of those comments, noted of in the files, involved teammates talking about how they wouldn’t want to live in the ghetto or go to a black church, how one player went to Haiti and took a picture with a “little skinny, hungry black boy,” and saying that black people never shave because they’re so dark. The last comment was said in response to someone stating that they felt gross for not shaving.
According to the evidence disclosed in the summary of judgment, throughout the 14 years of Applebury’s tenure there have only been three black women on the basketball team in contrast to the men’s team being one-third black. This information was listed as evidence as it is striking that at a university comprised primarily of women, the men’s basketball team has a higher ratio of black to white players.
Riley, also a former student who tried out with Orsted, reported complaints about “racist talk, hostile and insensitive racial attitudes on the women’s basketball team,” and was cut from the team before tryouts and felt that she had been dropped from the team suddenly without explanation, according to the summary of judgment.
Tyler was aware of the two similar complaints made by students involved with the women’s basketball team but did nothing to address it, according the Memorandum in Opposition to Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment.*
In the court files, it states that he didn’t think Riley’s input would have been useful in investigating Orsted’s complaint. He had considered sending team members to diversity and inclusiveness counseling and later did so for the first time in his career.
During the process of reporting, Johnson, Applebury and Tyler were each contacted through email for comment on April 11. Anna Billingsley, Associate Vice President of University Relations, responded on behalf of each person with the statement written by Juliette Landphair that was mentioned at the beginning of this article.
Court records show that the university agreed to make future student athletes aware of “potential school credit ramifications of not making a team,” to revise the tryout policy, and that the payment would be made shortly after the settlement became official.
The settlement agreement was made by both parties to reduce any further costs that would be made if the case were to continue. In addition to both parties’ mutual agreement, the university also agreed to incorporate sensitivity training into the athletics department.
On April 24, 2017, the Washington Post came out with an article addressing this settlement, focusing on interviews with Orsted that shine light on the uncertainties felt by many black students, in regard to how to deal with racism on campus.
However, doubts of racism become validated through cases such as her own, where the disheartening behaviors of others are exposed and talked about in public. Orsted said, in the article, that for her it was important to press on with her concerns and that she could not have done it without the support of her mother.
President Troy Paino read the Washington Post article and wrote a statement to the UMW community. He said, “In my ten months here at Mary Washington, I have come to know the individuals who make up this community… they are persons of character and commitment – and they do not condone discrimination of any kind.”
*Editor’s Note: This article was corrected to more accurately state how Orsted became involved with the basketball team and which students went to the athletics department to complain about racist remarks by teammates. A previous version of this article misstated some of this information. Some clarifications were also made to the language, and additional attribution was provided for some statements.
The staff of The Blue & Gray would also like to clarify that the court records used were mainly from the plaintiff’s pleadings. A small portion of the university’s pleadings were added after publication.