Stan Lui/Arizona Athletics
A former assistant to ex-UA football coach Rich Rodriguez, who was fired Tuesday night amid sexual misconduct allegations, is seeking $7.5 million for emotional distress, according to a notice of claim filed with the Arizona Attorney’s General’s Office on Dec. 28.
The claim, filed by the attorney for Melissa Wilhelmsen, alleges that Rodriguez forced her to help keep an affair secret from Rodriquez’s wife and later made sexual advances toward her. It also claims and that Rodriguez at one point typed up a book, called “The Hideaway Book,” which sought to establish secrecy within Rodriguez’s inner circle—including Wilhelmsen and then-assistants Charlie Ragle and Miguel Reveles.
The University of Arizona released a statement from UA President Robert C. Robbins and Athletic Director Dave Heeke Tuesday night announcing Rodriguez’s dismissal, saying that an independent investigation commissioned by the university could not substantiate Wilhelmsen’s original allegations, partly because she did not cooperate with the investigation.
But university officials decided to fire Rodriguez because "Arizona Athletics did become aware of information, both before and during the investigation, which caused it to be concerned with the direction and climate of the football program,” Robbins and Heeke said.
Wilhelmsen alleged that Rodriguez’s conduct veered from inappropriate to outright sexual harassment—including a request that she bring him his underwear from the equipment area and a conversation in which he told her his “preferred style of underwear ‘visually enhanced’ his genitalia when worn,” according to the claim.
Wilhelmsen also accused Rodriguez of touching the side of her breast, and then trying to kiss her during a meeting in January 2017, after telling her, “Whatever you need, I’m here for you.” The alleged incident occurred as Melissa and Jason were having marital troubles that stemmed from her stressful work environment, the claim said.
Wilhelmsen, according to the claim, tried to leave her role and join the athletic department’s development office after the kissing incident in March of 2017. She scheduled an appointment, but it was later canceled with no reason. She then tried to make another appointment a month later with the same person, but received no response, the claim said.
Wilhemsen said she felt trapped in her job with the Athletic Department because she feared for what would happen to her daughter—who also worked within the department and attended the UA at a discounted tuition rate because of Wilhemsen’s job, the claim said.
Wilhelmsen finally left the department in August for a non-University job, but was cornered by Rodriguez’s wife on her last day, before confessing to the truth about Rodriguez’s girlfriend, according to the claim.
Attorney Augustine B. Jimenez III, who represents Wilhelmsen, said in the claim that no public figure should be allowed to harass women with impunity.
“If this case were to go to trial, in the current climate where #MeToo is in the headlines on a daily basis, neither male nor female jurors would have any sympathy for a public figure who used his authority and power to oppress and degrade his female assistant in such ways. Undoubtedly, the verdict could be in the tens of millions of dollars because the jurors would want to send a message to such high-profile and highly paid coaches that such abuses of power are not acceptable,” Jimenez said.
In a statement on Twitter, Rodriquez admitted to an extramarital affair but said Wilhelmsen’s claims were “baseless and false” and vowed to “vigorously fight these fabricated and groundless claims.”
Read Wilhelmsen's notice of claim for yourself here: