DePaul ignored allegations that its former softball coach punched an assistant in the face and verbally abused his players and retaliated against the whisteblower by terminating her contract with the school, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.
The private school in Chicago is also accused of violating Title IX rules for failing to report complaints made against Eugene Lenti, who is alleged to have avoided punishment because his sister, Jean Lenti Ponsetto, serves as DePaul’s athletic director. Lenti is now an assistant at Auburn.
When informed of the lawsuit and its allegations by phone, Lenti told The Associated Press, “Yeah, I don’t know what you’re talking about,” and hung up.
“We have not yet seen a copy of this complaint, but as a general matter the university does not comment on pending litigation,” Carol Hughes, a spokeswoman for DePaul, said in an email.
The suit was filed in Cook County Circuit court by sports psychologist Jenny Conviser, who said her contract to counsel DePaul athletes was terminated two years ago after she raised concerns to athletic department officials regarding Lenti’s behavior. Conviser had worked at DePaul since 2005 and said the contract was renewed for four years in 2017.
Conviser is suing DePaul for wrongful retaliation and defaming her reputation. She is seeking unspecified damages.
She said the contract was terminated in April 2018, a few weeks after a softball player informed one of Conviser’s therapists she saw Lenti punch his associate head coach in the face. Conviser said the player reported what happened to the school’s Title IX office, which opened an investigation.
The results of the investigation are unknown. The lawsuit said the investigator improperly disclosed the player’s identity to her teammates, who blamed her for “getting Lenti in trouble.”
Lenti retired in June after leading the Blue Demons to their fourth Big East title and an NCAA Tournament berth. In 37 years at DePaul, Lenti won a school-record 1,327 games and qualified for 20 NCAA Tournaments, while also making four Women’s College World Series appearances, the latest in 2007.
The lawsuit alleges DePaul covered up the allegations by firing both assistant coaches, including the woman Lenti allegedly hit, following his retirement.
The 62-year-old Lenti was hired last year as an assistant coach at Auburn. A message was left seeking comment from Auburn athletic director Allen Greene.
Conviser said she first became aware of concerns regarding Lenti in 2016, including the coach using profane language to verbally abuse his players on a regular basis. Conviser said she reported the allegations but the school “took no steps to independently investigate” the coach, a violation of Title IX protocols.
Conviser said the school also violated Title IX rules by retaliating against her and her company by terminating the contract three years early. She also alleges DePaul of libeling her by “revealing that it has told third parties that Dr. Conviser is incompetent and frequently gets her facts wrong and thus cannot be trusted in a professional capacity.”
The lawsuit alleges the “knowingly false statements” were made to athletes, trainers, coaches and others.
AP Sports Writer Jay Cohen in Chicago contributed to this report.