FORT COLLINS, Colo. — A Colorado State University student has filed a federal lawsuit against the school, a hospitality company and two fans, alleging she was sexually harassed while working as a server in a luxury box at Rams football games in 2019 – and then retaliated against after she complained.
Katelyn Schiller alleged that two fans sitting a luxury seating area touched her inappropriately, that one of them used a derogatory term to describe her, and that she felt harassed and intimidated. After she raised complaints, according to the suit, she was demoted while the fan who rented the luxury box was upgraded to a suite.
As a result, according to the suit, Schiller suffered “severe psychological distress that has manifest (sic) itself in painful physical symptoms.”
In the suit filed in federal court in Denver, Schiller named five defendants: Colorado State University; Spectra, an entertainment company based in Philadelphia that provides hospitality services at the on-campus Canvas Stadium; Karla Lewis, the company’s manager at the venue; Michael Best, who reserved a loge box for the 2019 season; and Scott Schell, who attended one game.
The allegations led to an investigation by the CSU Police Department, but prosecutors decided not to file criminal charges.
“This complaint is full of false accusations,” said Denver attorney Craig Silverman, who represents Best. “The bottom line is my client fully cooperated with law enforcement, and the detective who investigated this case correctly concluded that it was bogus. We expect the same result in the civil justice system.”
“The accusations listed against me are absolutely false,” Schell told 9NEWS. “I fully cooperated with the detective with the CSUPD and they cleared us in the fall.”
He said he expects the same result in federal court.
“We’re absolutely innocent,” Schell said.
Dell Rae Ciaravola, a spokeswoman for the university, released a statement to 9NEWS: “While CSU generally does not comment on pending litigation, some allegations against CSU regarding the university’s response to this matter are factually inaccurate. CSU took appropriate measures to protect the student before its formal investigation into her allegations even began. CSU’s first priority is the safety and well-being of our students.”
Phone and e-mail messages left with Spectra were not returned, and Lewis could not be reached.
The suit also alleged that Best’s wife, Realtor and longtime radio personality and television anchor Susie Wargin, pressured CSU financially in an effort to force the school to retaliate against Schiller. Wargin worked at 9NEWS from 2001 to 2014.
According to the suit, Schiller was 19 and working as a server for Spectra at CSU games last season, where she was “assigned to serve the high-value, financially well-off patrons who watched the CSU football games from ‘loge boxes,’ which are outdoor private seating areas with controlled access.”
The position was desirable, according to the suit, because most of the pay came from tips and it gave her a chance to “interact with successful members of the community, many of whom were CSU alumni.”
At one game last year – the suit said it was Sept. 5, but Schiller’s attorney, Birk Baumgartner acknowledged to 9NEWS it was actually on Sept. 7 – the student was assigned to work in the box reserved for the season by Best and Wargin. At that game, the suit alleged that Best grabbed her “several times, including grabbing her by the extreme upper thigh,” causing bruises. Best, the suit alleged, was “highly intoxicated” at the time and dragged her “around the box” and called her and a co-worker a derogatory name.
“Defendant Best’s inappropriate sexual advances and physical assaults were non-consensual,” according to the suit, and the use of profanity caused Schiller to be “intimidated and scared.”
According to the suit, Schiller alleged that she was subjected to similar behavior by Best at games Sept. 21 and Oct. 5. At that last game, according to the suit, the woman alleged that Schell, who was “highly intoxicated,” began touching her “in a sexual manner, caressing her hips, touching her inner thigh, putting his hands in plaintiff’s pockets and reaching his fingers into plaintiff’s pubic area …”
The suit alleged that despite repeated complaints to her supervisor and multiple meetings with CSU officials she was demoted to stocking shelves in a pantry. She quit as a result.
Although Wargin is not named as a defendant in the suit, it alleged that she used financial pressure in an effort to force the school to retaliate against Schiller, writing in an e-mail to a school official: “I write a lot of checks to athletics and the university. We have been nothing but stand up alums and supporters for decades.”
Schiller sought to have Best banished from future games or denied alcohol service, according to the suit but instead, he was upgraded to a suite.
According to the suit, a prosecutor in the 8th Judicial District concluded that “while we do find the victim credible and that she was subjected to unwanted sexual contact, we do not believe the case can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt if the case was filed and proceeded to trial.”
Once those named in the suit are served with it – probably next week – they will have 21 days to respond.
No hearings have been scheduled in the case.
Contact 9Wants to Know investigator Kevin Vaughan with tips about this or any story: firstname.lastname@example.org or 303-871-1862.
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