Soccer Team Owner Sexually Harassed Dance Team Members, According to Lawsuit

A lawsuit filed in Washington state accuses an indoor soccer team’s owner of sexual harassment, sex discrimination, and hostile work environment. Buslon, et al v. Seattle Impact FC, et al, No. 14-2-30325-4, complaint (Wash. Super. Ct., King Co., Nov. 6, 2014). The plaintiffs, several of whom were part of the organization’s dance team, are also asserting claims for wrongful and constructive discharge, as well as other employment law and intentional tort claims. The team owner reportedly has a nearly-two-decade-long history of sexual harassment and other allegations. Prosecutors were reportedly considering whether to bring charges for sexual assault against him in December, but as of early March 2015, they do not appear to have done so.

The plaintiffs were employees of a professional indoor soccer team, the Seattle Impact FC, based in the Seattle suburb of Kent, Washington. The team came under new ownership in May 2014, according to the plaintiffs’ complaint, and was invited to join the Major Arena Soccer League (MASL). The plaintiffs claim that the owner, who also acted as chief executive officer of the team organization, used his position “to exploit vulnerable employees for his own sexual gratification.” Buslon, complaint at 4. From the time the team joined the MASL, the plaintiffs allege, the owner “was more passionate about luring ‘smoking hot’ dancers than he was about a soccer team.” Id. The six plaintiffs’ former positions were co-captain of the dance team, dance team member, dance team director, director of operations, office administrator, and senior corporate account manager.

The complaint describes a pattern of harassing and abusive behavior by the owner directed at members of the dance team, including inviting one dancer “to his home for private modeling” and “late-night text messages” requesting “massages.” Id. This allegedly culminated in “sexual assault[s]” against the two plaintiffs who were dance team members, in two separate incidents in September 2014. Id. The owner allegedly responded to reports of the alleged assaults with a “brutal campaign of threats, intimidation, and retaliatory actions” against the plaintiffs and others. Id.

Four plaintiffs claim they were constructively discharged by the owner between September 19 and 23, 2014, either due to the alleged sexual assaults, an alleged hostile work environment, or requests by the owner to “engage in conspiratorial and illegal acts designed to cover up [his] illegal conduct.” Id. at 8. The former office manager alleges that she was fired on September 21 because the owner “did not trust that [she] would have his ‘back.'” Id. at 9. The former account manager claims that the owner fired him on September 23 in part “because he cooperated with law enforcement in connection with the ongoing investigation of” the owner. Id.

The complaint asserts eleven causes of action, including one for “sexual harassment, sex discrimination, hostile work environment, [and] quid pro quo sex discrimination” under the Washington Law Against Discrimination. Id. at 33, citing RCW ยง 49.60.010 et seq. Washington’s sexual harassment law is similar to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the New York State Human Rights Law.

In addition to the owner, the lawsuit names the Seattle Impact FC organization, the MASL, and the MASL commissioner as defendants. They claim that the MASL knew or should have known about the owner’s unlawful actions, but failed to intervene.

The employment attorneys at Phillips & Associates advocate for the rights of New York City employees and job seekers in sexual harassment claims under city, state, and federal law. To schedule a free and confidential consultation, please contact us today online or at (212) 248-7431.

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