Parents of a former Rosemount High School graduate who died by suicide are taking legal action against the Florida university their daughter attended and her cross-country coach at the time. In a lawsuit, they say the coach bullied her about her weight and learning disabilities.
The case was filed by Ray and Lynne Pernsteiner in Florida state court in February and then moved to U.S. District Court in Florida in March. Julia Pernsteiner died in her Jacksonville University dorm room on Nov. 8, 2021 at age 23.
The lawsuit alleges that Pernsteiner’s constitutional rights were violated under both Title IX and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Calls from the Pioneer Press to attorneys for the former coach Ronald E. Grigg Jr., 52, and Jacksonville University for comment on the lawsuit were not returned. Jacksonville University sent this statement: “The students, faculty, and staff of Jacksonville University continue to mourn Julia’s tragic death and we sympathize with the Pernsteiner family for their loss. Per University policy, we do not comment on pending litigation.”
According to the civil complaint, Grigg, who coached the university’s cross-country team from 1998 until his resignation in July, targeted Pernsteiner with “malicious, humiliating and demeaning” comments, text messages and emails.
“As a coach, defendant Grigg was oppressive, threatening, bullying, condescending and demeaning to many of the young women on the team,” said the complaint. “He created a toxic atmosphere of humiliation and intimidation by belittling, disparaging and ridiculing runners who did not meet his standards.”
Pernsteiner and other members of the cross-country team reached out to the JU athletic director, trainers and administrators to report Grigg’s conduct, but no action was taken against the coach, according to the complaint.
In addition to failing to supervise Grigg, the lawsuit also states that JU failed to provide the necessary academic and athletic resources to Pernsteiner.
Pernsteiner used an Individualized Education Plan from a young age to help with her ADHD, dyslexia and other learning disabilities, which JU allegedly agreed to comply with in addition to other disability and mental health resources. However, JU failed to provide accommodations, including a scribe, reader, professors’ notes and assistive technology, the complaint said.
Grigg dismissed Pernsteiner from the cross-country team in September 2021 and after leaving the team, Pernsteiner sent an email to the JU athletic director seeking advice because she was concerned about staying in school without resources from the athletic department. But her pleas went unanswered and she struggled with depression.
In a statement through their attorney, Ray and Lynne Pernsteiner said, “For Julia, running was a big part of her life and being part of the team was the biggest, most important, thing to her … Julia used running as a key outlet to help her manager her disabilities.”
The Pernsteiners are seeking monetary damages and a judge’s determination that JU discriminated against their daughter.
(Source: Pioneer Press)