The Journal Gazette
Saturday, September 04, 2021 1:00 am

Assistant coach on leave as PFW reviews lawsuit

Accused of abuse at former job

JIM CHAPMAN | The Journal Gazette

A Purdue University Fort Wayne assistant women's volleyball coach has been placed on administrative leave after two athletes alleged in a federal lawsuit she physically abused and sexually harassed them while she was coach at the University of South Alabama.

Alexis Meeks-Rydell, a Leo-Cedarville native who was hired as Purdue Fort Wayne's assistant women's volleyball coach in June, is one of four defendants in the lawsuit filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Alabama.

The University of South Alabama, athletic director Joel Erdmann and Rob Chilcoat and Patricia Gandolfo, both of whom were assistant coaches under Meeks-Rydell, are also named as defendants.

Rachel DeMarcus and Alexis Silver sued, alleging “blatant sexual harassment and sexual and other physical and emotional assault” by Meeks-Rydell from January 2019 through the 2019-20 academic year. Both women transferred from South Alabama after playing for Meeks-Rydell. Silver no longer plays volleyball, the lawsuit said.

Meeks-Rydell was hired as South Alabama's coach Dec. 31, 2018, and resigned in February, it said.

The lawsuit alleges she physically abused DeMarcus and Silver by inappropriately touching them, including pinching their buttocks, and “overtraining and coercing players to continue practicing or playing while injured.” Meeks-Rydell used psychological and emotional manipulation and intimidation, among other tactics, to leverage and abuse her position of power and authority over the team, the suit said.

It accuses Meeks-Rydell of slapping team members, including DeMarcus specifically, in the face. 

Meeks-Rydell also forced team members into “floor hugs” in which she would force them to lie on the ground while she lay on top of the individuals, the suit said.

“Meeks-Rydell's relentless and pervasive pattern of harassment and abuse occurred in violation of federal and state laws, as well as in violation of National Collegiate Athletic Association ('NCAA') regulations established to protect student-athletes' educational opportunities outside of their chosen sport,” the suit said.

DeMarcus and Silver are seeking an unspecified amount in damages “in an amount greater than the minimum jurisdictional limits” of the court against the defendants.

Purdue Fort Wayne Athletic Director Kelley Hartley Hutton said in an email Friday Meeks-Rydell was placed on administrative leave while the university reviews the matter.

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