UMKC softball players say they were sexually harassed by their coach
The University of Missouri-Kansas City assistant softball coach accused of sexual harassment by former players is taking a “short leave of absence,” the school’s new director of university athletics announced Tuesday afternoon.
Brandon Martin, director of athletics, said assistant coach Greg Bachkora volunteered to take a leave “while I review all aspects of UMKC Softball, with the goal of providing assurance to students, parents and fans that we are delivering on an excellent standard of care for our student athletes.”
His announcement to the “UMKC Athletics family” did not say whether Bachkora would be paid while he is away from coaching.
Earlier on Tuesday, in a message to the UMKC community, Chancellor Mauli Agrawal defended the way the school handled the former players’ complaints against the coach.
“I want everyone to know that this complaint from May 2018, like all complaints involving any form of discrimination or harassment, was taken very seriously by everyone involved at UMKC,” Agrawal wrote. “The complaint was forwarded immediately to our Title IX coordinator who acted in accordance with the University of Missouri System Collected Rules and Regulations governing Title IX complaints.”
Agrawal’s memo, sent Monday, followed a report published Sunday in The Star about allegations made by three women who left UMKC last year. They accused Bachkora of barging into the women’s locker room while players were dressing, saying he needed to use the microwave.
One player said a teammate told her, Bachkora “has seen me naked more than my boyfriend has.” The players also accused Bachkora of kissing some players and joking about women’s genitalia.
After the players and their parents complained to university officials, the coach was talked to by then-UMKC Title IX coordinator Mikah Thompson but not investigated.
Thompson wrote in a report to the UMKC human resources department that because Bachkora “admitted that he had engaged in the alleged conduct, there was no need to conduct a formal investigation of the allegations.”
Bachkora said he kissed some players on the forehead or cheek but in a “fatherly, non-sexual manner,” according to a redacted Title IX report UMKC shared with The Star. He also confessed to the joke about genitalia and that he went in the locker room “multiple times” to use the microwave and sometimes for equipment, but said the women were always dressed and he always announced his presence.
Players who complained said he announced himself only after entering the locker room.
In response, the university placed the Title IX report in Bachkora’s employment records, told him that his behavior had been “inappropriate” and warned him that his actions would be closely monitored.
The UMKC athletic department also agreed to purchase a microwave for him and other staff to use in a common area. Agrawal did not mention the microwave in his memo.
In an interview with The Star, Thompson, who is now a UMKC associate law professor, said she thought Bachkora’s behavior was something “that shouldn’t be happening.” But she added, “there wasn’t a moment where I put a label on it and said, this is definitely sexual harassment within the policy definition.”
Agrawal in his memo said that after talking with Bachkora, Thompson “determined that the complaints involved isolated incidents that demonstrated poor judgment and inappropriate actions but did not rise to the level of a policy violation.”
“Title IX rules specify that certain factors should be considered when determining remedial actions, including the nature and severity of the violations, the circumstances surrounding the violation and the disciplinary history of the individual involved.”
Agrawal wrote that university officials have spoken with members of the UMKC softball team, “and no further complaints about this coach have been received by the university.”
On Tuesday, UMKC’s student newspaper, The University News, reported that several softball players who attended a Student Government Association meeting on Monday disputed the allegations made against Bachkora and “expressed their love for their coach.”
Martin’s message to those involved in UMKC athletics said, “The situation surrounding our softball program has my full attention.”
“Let me be absolutely clear: on my watch, the welfare of our student athletes is my top priority and is the top priority of everyone in the department. I take responsibility for ensuring a professional and welcoming environment.”
Martin said he met this week with current members of the softball team and was told their experiences didn’t match those described by the players who complained about Bachkora’s behavior. But he said the issue “provides an opportunity for me to set a standard for my expectations for coaches, for staff and for student athletes.”
The chancellor did not dispute the allegations but said “there are always many complexities related to every situation including some that are not covered in print.”
He added, “I want to assure you that taking care of our students, faculty and staff is of paramount importance to me and my leadership team at UMKC and we will always act with resolve and integrity.”
The chancellor did not address questions of whether the university had violated federal student privacy law when it responded to The Star’s request for comment by emailing a summary of previous disciplinary action the Athletic Department had taken last spring against six softball players involved in an alcohol-related incident. The document identifies three of those players as the ones who later complained about Bachkora.
Experts contacted by The Star say the release of that document violated the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA, which prohibits a college or university from sharing certain information about students, including sexual harassment complaints and disciplinary records.
Sara Collins, an attorney with the nonprofit Future of Privacy Forum, called the move “intentional,” “egregious” and “malicious.”
University officials said they didn’t violate the law because none of the women was identified by name.
But the lawyers said that in this case, redacting names is not protection “because (UMKC) knew that (The Star) knew who the girls were,” and because the disciplinary report only deals with six of the 13 players who were on the team last year. Such a small and specific group makes the women easily identifiable.
In November, after a report by The Star that a UMKC School of Pharmacy School professor was accused of using students as “slave labor,” Agrawal immediately suspended the professor, Ashim Mitra. Last month, Mitra resigned, one day before a final hearing was set to determine his future with UMKC.