The Daily Evergreen

Records show numerous allegations of sexual misconduct against Jason Gesser

Schulz knew of many claims about advances on student interns, donor event actions

Jason+Gesser%2C+pictured+here+at+a+Cougar+Athletic+Fund+event+in+2015%2C+was+the+subject+of+an+Office+for+Equal+Opportunity+inquiry+in+January+2018+regarding+complaints+of+sexual+misconduct.+
Jason Gesser, pictured here at a Cougar Athletic Fund event in 2015, was the subject of an Office for Equal Opportunity inquiry in January 2018 regarding complaints of sexual misconduct.

Jason Gesser, pictured here at a Cougar Athletic Fund event in 2015, was the subject of an Office for Equal Opportunity inquiry in January 2018 regarding complaints of sexual misconduct.

Courtesy of WSU Athletic Communications

Courtesy of WSU Athletic Communications

Jason Gesser, pictured here at a Cougar Athletic Fund event in 2015, was the subject of an Office for Equal Opportunity inquiry in January 2018 regarding complaints of sexual misconduct.

IAN SMAY and DYLAN GREENE

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Hundreds of pages of public records show a number of allegations of sexual harassment and misconduct against Jason Gesser, assistant director of athletics at the Cougar Athletic Fund, dating back as far as 2014.

The allegations are outlined in interview notes and records from a complaint review carried out by WSU’s Office for Equal Opportunity that began in January, which the Evergreen obtained through a public records request.

Gesser, who led the Cougars to the 2003 Rose Bowl and conference co-championship, is often referred to as a “celebrity” at donor events in an apparent attempt to draw more attendees, according to the records.

After college, Gesser played professional football for six years and spent time on four separate coaching staffs, including serving as the interim head coach at the University of Idaho for six games, before returning to WSU in 2013.

The allegations portray a pattern of behavior, beginning with meeting women overnight while on the road with the CAF and culminating in allegations of sexual relations and advances on student interns as recently as 2017.

Allegations outlined in the public records include:

  • Multiple advances made on both student interns and coworkers, including allegations of sexual relations and attempting to kiss a co-worker after having dinner with a donor, as recently as 2017.
  • Using WSU funds to fly a woman to a Cougar Legends golf event in Cle Elum in 2016 despite the woman not being a former athlete at WSU, drawing backlash from donors.
  • Suspicious actions with and sometimes in front of donor guests.
  • One person interviewed by OEO said they knew of one student babysitting for Gesser at the time of his interview this January, a trend which has been going on for years.

The Evergreen reached out to Gesser multiple times through various means, including email and numerous phone calls to his office and cell phone, but he did not respond to our attempts.

Associate Director of Athletics Bill Stevens said Gesser and Director of Athletics Patrick Chun would not comment on the story, citing WSU’s policy against commenting on personnel matters.

In August, IMG and WSU announced that Gesser would not resume his role as a radio analyst for WSU football games to allow him to focus on his role with the CAF.

The Evergreen made multiple attempts to reach Matt Almond, general manager at WSU IMG, for comment regarding the reason for Gesser’s departure, but he never returned calls or emails, other than one from a secretary asking what we wanted to speak about.

OEO determined it didn’t have enough evidence to conduct an investigation under Executive Policy 15, but referred the matter to Human Resource Services based on information from witnesses that may violate other WSU polices or raise concerns related to employee performance and professionalism.

The Evergreen filed a records request for the HRS review but has yet to receive them.

EP 15 “prohibits discrimination, sexual harassment and sexual misconduct” and applies to all students, faculty, staff and anyone associated with the university, according to the OEO website.

Multiple people interviewed by the OEO said they were either aware of or had personally informed President Kirk Schulz of the concerns surrounding Gesser. Almond said he met with Schulz last December to discuss the issues, a meeting which has been confirmed by the Evergreen.

Schulz, who would not speak directly to the Evergreen about the story, met with our staff on Sept. 7 as part of a new series of monthly meetings. When asked if he could step in during personnel matters, Schulz answered yes.

“Generally speaking, yeah, the president of a university has the authority to do a lot of stuff,” Schulz said.

However, he said he didn’t like to override the decisions of vice presidents, deans or other department heads entrusted with managing staff and faculty.

Phil Weiler, vice president of marketing and communications for WSU, said he would speak on behalf of Schulz for the story.

Weiler said the OEO review did not result in action against Gesser because of a lack of official complaints from those who voiced concerns over the allegations.

“No one’s been willing to come forward to make an official complaint,” Weiler said. “If no one is willing to come forward, the investigation goes as far as it can.”

Uri Farkas, a former athletics administrator who was heavily questioned by the OEO, said people were mad Gesser had seemingly escaped any recourse for his alleged indiscretions.

“I was really disappointed that not anything had been done anywhere on campus,” Farkas said, according to the records. “Staff is frustrated, I am frustrated.”

Alleged advances on student interns

Employees within the athletics department informed investigators they knew of alleged sexual harassment and misconduct, including some involving student interns, according to OEO interview notes.

“[Coworker] indicated that Jason had a sexual relationship with [intern], a student-athlete and Jason’s intern,” Farkas said, according to the notes.

Farkas told investigators this was the “red flag that made all the yellows fall into place,” according to the records.

Farkas then went on to speak with Almond about the issue and also told investigators he reported the concerns to WSU Title IX officials on Dec. 26, 2017.

Almond said he spoke with Schulz, according to the records.

At least one woman was a student at the time of an alleged sexual encounter, according to the records.

Gesser had a position of authority over the intern in question, according to the records.

“She was an intern for Cougar athletics and [was] directly reporting to Jason,” Farkas said in the notes.

If Gesser or another university official engages in sexual activity with a student, it would present a problem for WSU, Weiler said.

At least one intern spoke with OEO investigators about her time at WSU, but it was unclear if it was the same intern who allegedly had a sexual encounter with Gesser.

The intern said she knew the complaint focused on Gesser before the interviewers mentioned his name, according to the records. She asked about him in response to a question of whether she had brought up concerns about a coworker with Almond, her superior at the time.

“Are you talking about Gesser?” the intern asked.

She then went on to speak about text messages between them, according to the records.

“He sent me flirty texts one time and I thought it was weird,” the intern said, according to the records. “I thought that’s weird and moved on. I told [Almond] about it because he’s my boss and I trusted him. [Gesser] called me a ‘cutie’ or something.”

Almond also backed up this claim in his interview with OEO, according to the records.

“[An intern] shared a concern with me,” Almond said in the records. “She was concerned as to why Jason had sent her a flirty text message. She did convey that the flirty text message occurred when she was a student and interning with [IMG].”

The records also show Almond informing investigators that former female employee had told him about an intern claiming she had “relations” with Gesser.

Adam Ganders, assistant athletic director of the CAF, said he was worried about student interns and athletes babysitting for Gesser, including one he indicated was babysitting for them at the time of his interview in January.

“I worry about situations like that,” Ganders said in the records. “I worry about having a student athlete or interns in that position as well. I know he’s pretty close with the volleyball program and has a friendship with [head] coach [Jen] Greeny and I wonder what that looks like being at their home alone, no supervision.”

Ganders could not be reached for comment despite numerous attempts via phone by the Evergreen and Stevens said Greeny would also not comment on the matter.

Weiler said there is nothing inherently wrong with employees having students babysit as long as nothing inappropriate takes place.

“I don’t see anything inappropriate with that,” Weiler said. “I’m not sure why that would be a problem.”

OEO also interviewed a former athletics department employee who has since left WSU, who told investigators Gesser made comments and advances on her but noted she “never felt harassed or assaulted.”

One incident she outlined occurred when she and Gesser met with a CAF donor for dinner at Foundry Kitchen & Cocktails in Pullman over a year before her January interview.

“I don’t remember exactly all the exchange, but there was an advancement to kiss me, which caught me off guard, nor did I lean in or encourage that,” she said in the records. “It was purely one-sided.”

The same woman in question also told investigators Gesser held a higher role than her in the department and had sent her suggestive texts, including during work hours.

She also told investigators Gesser had invited her to his hotel room via text late at night while on the road, which she declined.

“They were suggestive of sexual things,” she told investigators. “I can say confidently suggestive.”

She also said she had heard of these things happening before her employment at WSU.

“I knew it was more of a trend than it wasn’t,” she told investigators. “He said that … he was afraid that I would say something about everything.”

Concerns from donors and behavior at fundraisers

Athletic department officials said in their interviews with OEO that donors and coworkers had raised concerns over Gesser’s behavior at fundraisers and other CAF events.

Ganders told OEO investigators a donor had complained about Gesser inviting a female member of the media to the Cougar Legends golf event in 2016 at the Suncadia Golf Resort in Cle Elum, Washington, according to the records.

The donor complained to him that the woman had been invited up for Gesser’s personal reasons instead of the interests of the donors or WSU, Ganders said in the records.

“[Donor] called me and told me it was [bullsh-t] that she was invited, that it was a misuse of state funds,” Ganders told investigators. “In his opinion, she was being flown up to be Jason’s girl at the event. That is when it really affected me professionally.”

Farkas also told investigators the department held some concerns over Gesser’s decision to invite the woman to the event.

“There was a number of eyebrows raised,” Farkas said in the records. “We typically pay for former student-athletes to attend those events.”

He went on to also say a donor had complained and questioned the decision, according to the records. It is unclear if it is the same donor that complained to Ganders.

“Is WSU athletics paying for Jason’s side pieces to travel with him to events?” Farkas told investigators a donor asked him.

Farkas also reported to the investigators that other CAF officials said Gesser and the woman had behaved inappropriately at the after-party, according to the records.

Ganders said in the interview the woman in question was supposed to be auctioned off as a caddy for donors the next day, but she never fulfilled her duties for the tournament.

“She never participated the next day to be that four caddy,” Ganders told investigators.

Ganders also made note that both Gesser and the woman showed up late to the event, according to the records.

The Evergreen spoke with the woman in question, whose name has been left out of this article in an attempt to protect her identity and reputation.

The woman confirmed she had her travels and accommodations paid for by WSU and that Gesser had invited her to the event.

However, she denied having romantic relations with Gesser at the event or otherwise.

“My interactions with Jason and everyone in the Cougar Athletic Fund department were completely professional,” she said. “There was no funny business.”

The woman also said she fulfilled her duties on-time as a caddy, but did leave early in order to catch a flight booked for her by the university so she could make it to work the next day.

Weiler said while it would be alright for the university to pay for the expenses of a person at an event for a business purpose, a line would be crossed if that person was there for personal reasons.

“If there is not a business reason for the university to be paying for that person’s expenses, that’s against the law,” Weiler said.

Ganders said this situation made him realize Gesser’s actions had negatively impacted a donor’s relationship with WSU, according to the records.

“I realized that a donor is now frustrated because of the actions of Jason Gesser,” Ganders told investigators. “It is now affecting my every day when I interact with that donor.”

Another alleged incident came in 2014 after a donor event in Pasco, Washington. Ganders, a regional director for the CAF at the time, and Gesser attended the event.

A donor requested permission to bring a former WSU women’s basketball player from California who was staying with them to the event, which Ganders said he approved, according to the records.

Ganders said he noticed Gesser and the former player knew each other.

“I immediately recognized that Jason and [former player] knew each other, were classmates,” Ganders told investigators. “It was a great way to bring her back into the fold, to support CAF and student-athlete scholarships, since she benefited from a scholarship.”

After the event, Ganders said in the records, a group of people including Gesser and the former player went out for drinks, after which the former player elected to get a ride home from Gesser.

The donor then called Ganders the next day and brought up the fact the former player had not returned until 4 a.m. the next morning, which the donor called “weird,” according to the records.

Farkas said in his interview with OEO that Ganders had told him the donor called and was “irate because Jason dropped [the former player] off the following morning,” according to the records.

Impact on CAF, athletics

Weiler said Schulz would trust his senior managers and supervisors to make a decision on employee discipline in their department if there was a concern about a particular individual and that he would not want to override anyone’s decision.

Gil Picciotto, who served as executive associate vice president for the WSU Foundation for 11 years before leaving to become the current president of Eastside Catholic School in Sammamish, said he went to Schulz with concerns.

“There was enough concern for me to bring to President [Schulz],” Picciotto told investigators.

Almond said in his interview with OEO that he felt the need to come forward with his worries to IMG HR after hearing about the alleged relationship with a student-athlete, according to the records.

“When I was informed in November about the student-athlete, I felt compelled to share with HR,” he said in the records.

Almond told investigators he met with Schulz. He said he felt the need to bring up the concerns surrounding Gesser, despite the original purpose of the meeting being a discussion about IMG and WSU’s relationship.

“At the time, I said, I wanted to let you know about our current HR issues,” he told investigators. “They are evaluating … whether we renew [Gesser’s] agreement for the fall.”

Gesser was on a year-by-year contract with IMG, according to records.

Almond said he did not refer to Gesser by name in the meeting because they were in public and he had been informed that Schulz would know who he was talking about.

“I just referred to it as an HR issue,” Almond said in the records. “I was told that Schulz had already been made aware of discretions about Jason Gesser by his cabinet prior to our meeting. I was told he would know what I was referring to.”

Before he went to HR, Almond said he went to Gesser personally as a friend and neighbor to inform Gesser of what he had heard, according to the records.

However, Gesser later learned of Almond going to HR and confronted him.

“He was told by somebody that I shared it. He texted me and asked to meet with me,” Almond said in the records. “He aggressively came into his office, accused me of ruining his life, his marriage and his kids’ lives.”

Almond also said he was told to “shut my mouth and stay in my lane,” but did not make clear who said that, according to the records.

Ganders told investigators that CAF staff was tired of dealing with the issues surrounding Gesser.

“I think our staff is pretty worn down with just dealing with all the rumors … and continuing to try to go to bat for him,” Ganders told investigators.

OEO response, university impact

Schulz knew of the concerns surrounding Gesser’s possible harassment and misconduct, Weiler said.

“I would imagine it was the start of the investigation,” Weiler said of when Schulz was informed of the situation. The earliest OEO interview notes obtained as part of the records request are dated in early January.

Farkas said in his interview with OEO that Schulz received information about the situation on Dec. 1, 2017, according to the records.

OEO Executive Director Kimberly Anderson confirmed that an investigation only happens if a person wants actions to be taken or if the acts in question are egregious enough to warrant further potential discipline.

She also said the OEO only deals with EP 15 complaints and they don’t get to make disciplinary decisions, they only pass along their findings to the appropriate departments, such as HRS, to handle disciplinary actions against those found guilty.

The department can reach out to those outside of WSU if there is reason to believe they have important information, Anderson said.

However, this appears to contradict what occurred in the Gesser case, as others had named women not affiliated with WSU as being involved in the incidents, but those who were not a part of the university at any point do not appear to have been interviewed. Anderson said she could not comment on specific investigations.

She also said OEO looks at instances of harassment, including social interactions that involve romantic propositions in the workplace. The OEO investigates these claims for policy violations other than EP 15 if they feel the need to, as it still could be considered harassment of a protected class, she said.

“Essentially asking out your coworker, typically that’s on the basis of their sex,” she said. “You’re interested in them in a romantic way, so it would be on the basis of sex.”

Weiler also said he encourages anyone who has concerns or knows of actions that may cross a line to make a formal complaint.

Farkas told investigators that regardless of their findings, the damage had been done.

“[Gesser’s] reputation with WSU is tattered, regardless of what you find,” Farkas said in the records. “There is work that will have to be done.”

Editor’s note: The Evergreen has decided against posting the public records online to protect the women involved whose names were not redacted.

About the Writer
DYLAN GREENE, Evergreen Editor-in-Chief

Dylan Greene is a journalism and media production major from Stanwood. He started as the football beat reporter in the fall of 2017 and midway through...

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Records show numerous allegations of sexual misconduct against Jason Gesser