Interviews in Idaho women’s volleyball investigation expected to be completed this week

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By Yosi Yahoudai
Founder and Managing Partner

Attorneys conducting an investigation into allegations that Idaho women’s volleyball head coach Chris Gonzalez regularly physically, verbally and emotionally abused players and that Athletic Director Terry Gawlik ignored or failed to act on those allegations expect to complete their final interviews by Friday, according to emails obtained by the Southern California News Group.

Lawyers for Thompson & Horton, the Texas-based law firm hired by the university to conduct the investigation, have interviewed 37 people and have also “reviewed information provided by players, coaches, other athletic staff, and administrators,” according to an email to Idaho players from Holly G. McIntush, one of the attorneys conducting the investigation.

McIntush said in the email that attorneys have at least four more interviews scheduled and “are also still waiting to hear back from a few other potential witnesses.” Thompson & Horton will also be conducting follow-up interviews this week with individuals who have made specific complaints, according to interviews with current and former Idaho players and emails. McIntush has asked at least four current players to make themselves available for two- to three-hour follow-up interviews this week, according to interviews and emails.

“We are hoping to finish up the fact-gathering portion of the investigation next week and begin preparation of our report after that,” McIntush wrote in an email.

Former and current players said they have not been informed by attorneys or university officials of when a report on the investigation might be completed or whether a report would be shared with them.

McIntush, according to Thompson & Horton’s website, “regularly helps clients develop legally compliant civil rights policies and procedures, advises them as they conduct investigations and hearings under those policies, and defends them in the event a complaint is filed with the Office for Civil Rights or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.”

Another Thompson & Horton partner, Jackie Gharapour Wernz, is acting as the university’s interim director of the Office of Civils Rights and Investigations.

McIntush did not respond to a request for comment. Gonzalez and a university spokesperson also did not respond to a request for comment.

Gonzalez, a Southern California native and former U.S. national team coach, continues to hold spring practices while being supervised by an employee from the Dean of Students office. Of the 12 players on the Vandals’ spring roster, only five athletes, all of them from foreign countries, have been practicing with Gonzalez. All six U.S.-based players have opted out of practices, citing physical safety and emotional health concerns about interacting with Gonzalez. A 12th player, a Turkish athlete, has been unable to practice because of injury.

The Thompson & Horton investigation was prompted by a 9,000-word, SCNG report published on Dec. 30 in which current and former players as well as university employees alleged Gonzalez routinely bullied and abused players during his two seasons at the Big Sky Conference school and that Gawlik as early as October 2022 ignored or dismissed athlete, parent and employee concerns.

The article and Gawlik and the university’s reaction to it have led to a growing outcry among Idaho players, past and present, alumni, and the student body that Idaho president C. Scott Green fire Gawlik as well as Gonzalez.

Gawlik and the university officials, in their original response to the initial SCNG report, portrayed the controversy as being based on complaints made during the 2023 season and that Idaho players had asked the university to hold off on any investigation until the end of that season.

But documents and interviews reveal that Gawlik failed to take effective action, if any action at all, on a series of detailed complaints against Gonzalez by players and parents both in writing and in person between October and December 2022. Gawlik’s inaction or indifference allegedly enabled Gonzalez to continue to physically, verbally, and emotionally abuse, body shame and pressure players to play or practice injured or improperly touch players for another year, 13 current and former players, nine parents and three university employees allege in interviews and emails to university officials.

Among those 2022 complaints to Gawlik were emails, memos, letters and in-person statements detailing that Gonzalez allegedly physically, emotionally, and verbally abused players, denied them food, routinely body shamed them, engaged in inappropriate touching and comments, disregarded instructions from the school’s sports medicine staff that athletes not play or practice because of injuries and made racially insensitive remarks to a Black player, according to interviews and documents obtained by the SCNG.

Gawlik’s contract expires on July 21 and several players, university employees and prominent alumni have speculated that she will be allowed by the university to retire at the end of the school year instead of being fired. Gawlik has not responded to multiple requests for comment.

‘These are cries for help;’ Players allege Idaho women’s volleyball coach Chris Gonzalez regularly bullied them

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About the Author
Yosi Yahoudai is a founder and the managing partner of J&Y. His practice is comprised primarily of cases involving automobile and motorcycle accidents, but he also represents people in premises liability lawsuits, including suits alleging dangerous conditions of public property, third-party criminal conduct, and intentional torts. He also has expertise in cases involving product defects, dog bites, elder abuse, and sexual assault. He earned his Bachelor of Arts from the University of California and is admitted to practice in all California State Courts, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of California. If you have any questions about this article, you can contact Yosi by clicking here.