A high-profile track and field coach has been accused of sexual harassment by his former athletes.
According to USA Today, three former college all-Americans filed a class-action complaint Wednesday against John Rembao, a longtime coach who has worked with Olympic and college athletes. The lawsuit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court in California against Rembao, the NCAA and the NCAA board of governors, alleges that the 59-year-old Rembao sexually harassed and abused the athletes while recruiting and coaching them.
“Without NCAA controls, coach John Rembao was permitted to move among schools without recrimination despite multiple schools’ knowledge of his sexual abuse of student-athletes,” the lawsuit states.
“This is ridiculous,” Rembao, the assistant director of employer relations at the University of California Santa Cruz, told USA Today on Tuesday. “It never happened. This is completely false. This is just making me angry because this is all crap.”
The plaintiffs are seeking class-action status, punitive damages and the adoption of corrective measures by the NCAA. All three were coached by Rembao in the late 1990s and early 2000s: Erin Aldrich, a 2000 Olympian in the high jump who Rembao coached at Arizona and Texas; and Jessica Johnson and Londa Bevins, both of whom Rembao coached at Texas before they became all-Americans at Arkansas.
“I stayed silent for over 20 years because the thought of coming forward was horrifying to me,” Aldrich said, according to USA Today. “But I decided that I couldn’t stay silent any longer. If I did, so many more girls would continue to be abused.”
According to USA Today, the sexual abuse laws in Arizona and Texas mean that the statute of limitations have expired in each case. Attorney Beth Fegan said that the women hope exceptions are made, and that this will encourage others to come forward.
“This could open the floodgates for broad reform, both in courts and legislatively,” said Nancy Hogshead-Makar, CEO of ChampionWomen and a former Olympic gold medalist. “The starts might be aligned right now in society. This class-action lawsuit combined with everything else that’s going on with the #MeToo movement and sexual assault could be a game-changer.”
The women, who range from 38-42 years old, say that Rembao groomed them through long phone calls while he was recruiting them. The harassment and abuse came once they went to college.
“I was 17 years old but had the maturity level of a 13-year-old when it came to dating,” Aldrich said. “That’s how he preyed on me. He was grooming me by calling me beautiful and sexy. He had me in love with him even before he touched me.
“He said he was going to leave his wife for me. He had me convinced that I could never be an Olympic athlete without him being my coach.”
“When I got to campus, it started immediately,” Johnson said. “On a trip, he had me come into his hotel room and started putting his hands under my clothes. He showed up in my dorm room. It was traumatic, but I just closed my eyes. He was in control of my scholarship and my athletic career.”
The Orange County Register reported in December that Rembao had been suspended for misconduct by the U.S. Center ford SafeSport. He was working as the head track and field coach at Los Gatos High School in California at the time, a job he said he left at the end of 2019 for “personal, family reasons.”
Rembao, who specializes in the high jump, has been a head coach at SMU as well as an assistant at Stanford, Arizona, Texas and Cal Poly.