At time of USC hiring, Mike Bohn was being investigated for racial, gender discrimination at Cincinnati
Ryan Kartje (LA Times) — At the time he was hired as USC’s athletic director, Mike Bohn was under investigation for his conduct at Cincinnati and facing complaints from his staff, according to interviews with five current and former Cincinnati employees as well as Title IX documents viewed by The Los Angeles Times.
One of those complaints, filed by a Cincinnati senior associate athletic director on Oct. 29, 2019, describes several instances in which Bohn made “racially harassing and other unprofessional remarks about her and other individuals in the athletics department.”
Cincinnati Title IX investigators stated in May 2020 that Bohn’s conduct “may have constituted evidence of a violation of university policy.” The assessment was issued six months after Bohn had accepted his new job as USC’s athletic director.
“There is no opportunity for the Respondent to answer, as he departed before there was an opportunity for the [Office of Equal Opportunity & Access] to address the concerns with him,” the summary of the investigation notes reads.
Bohn resigned as USC’s athletic director last week, a day after The Times asked Bohn and USC about internal criticism over his management and conduct. USC hired an outside law firm earlier this year to conduct a review of the culture and climate of the department under Bohn’s leadership.
At Cincinnati, where Bohn served as athletic director from 2014 to 2019, documents show the school was conducting its own review at the time of Bohn’s departure to assess “the climate and culture of the athletics department as a whole,” according to a copy of the review obtained by The Times through an open records request. That review, part of a second inquiry opened in late October 2019, included 27 interviews with athletic department staff, several of whom said the department had a “toxic atmosphere.”
“They do not feel comfortable in the Lindner Center building,” the report stated, referring to several employees working in the Cincinnati building where the athletics department operated.
The report concludes that “there is sufficient evidence to support a conclusion that staff members may have engaged in conduct in violation” of university policy.
Bohn has declined multiple Times requests for responses to detailed questions about allegations raised by Cincinnati staff members. None of the investigations resulted in a record of public discipline against Bohn.
Cincinnati has not responded to questions from The Times about Bohn’s behavior other than providing public records as required by law.
USC hired Turnkey Search in the fall of 2019 to recruit and vet athletic director candidates. At the time, Turnkey’s Lev Perna said the search firm considered more than 80 candidates. Perna told trade publication Hunt Scanlon Media that Bohn was “selected because of his integrity, his NCAA student-athlete focus and his people skills.”
USC did not respond to questions from The Times about Bohn or the vetting process prior to his hire.
Two female Cincinnati staff members told The Times that they met with Title IX officers to share their concerns about Bohn’s conduct and discuss filing a complaint before the department review was underway.
One of the women, who asked not to be identified to avoid adverse repercussions on her career, went forward with filing a complaint against a supervisor who reported to Bohn. She claimed “discriminatory, hostile, retaliatory, and/or disrespectful and unprofessional conduct alleged to violate University policies,” according to a copy of the official complaint viewed by The Times.
In the complaint, the staff member alleges Bohn belittled her and accused her of lying about a job offer from another school.
Cincinnati’s findings in the case, issued in May 2020, ultimately found insufficient evidence of discrimination, retaliation or unprofessional conduct by the woman’s supervisor.
Kim McGraw, who served as director of business affairs within Cincinnati athletics from 2009 to 2021, raised concerns about Bohn years before he left for USC. McGraw never filed an official complaint, but she met with a Title IX investigator on March 30, 2017, as a witness in an investigation, according to a notice letter obtained by The Times via an open records request.
The letter states McGraw told investigators she confronted Bohn about a pay disparity between her and two male staff members who were splitting duties of a departing administrator. Bohn, she said, responded that “it’s not an age or gender thing.” She said he asked her to sign notes at the end of the meeting indicating the pay dispute was resolved and that she would not file a complaint with the university. She told investigators she refused to sign it.
McGraw told The Times she saw Bohn make unwanted physical contact with women in the department that made them visibly uncomfortable. The Title IX notice letter does not include any mention of claims involving unwanted physical contact.
McGraw, who retired in 2021, said she didn’t file an official complaint because she was worried about retaliation from the university, Bohn or others in the department who were close to him. Her meeting with Title IX officers only heightened those concerns, she said.
“They led me to believe I’d be on my own fighting this,” McGraw told The Times. “I knew other people had filed complaints or at least went up there to talk to them. I didn’t feel like anybody would have my back.”
By 2019, some female staff members in Cincinnati’s athletics department had begun to meet discreetly, not only to discuss how to handle their concerns with Bohn and the department, but also to offer one another emotional support.
“It felt like therapy,” one woman said.
That woman, who filed the Title IX complaint naming Bohn, told The Times that the environment in the department was so tense that the women sometimes left their meet-ups one by one, so as to not arouse suspicion from Bohn or others in the department. She said the women discussed clandestinely dropping documents off at the university president’s home because they worried that filing a complaint through official channels would get back to Bohn and put them in danger of retaliation.
Three female staff members told The Times they were especially concerned because the entrance to Cincinnati’s Title IX office was in open view of the athletics department building.
“These aren’t easy jobs just to lose,” one female staff member said. “We were so afraid of that.”
During the Title IX administrative review, Cincinnati athletics staff shared similar concerns about the culture of the department with investigators.
”Staff members feel there is no trust in athletics and don’t feel that they can confide in anyone without everyone in athletics knowing their concern,” the review states.
Staff members also told investigators they were concerned that the athletics department did not follow university policy regarding hiring or internal promotions. Multiple staff members complained about a lack of diversity in leadership positions and said there was an “in crowd” within the department of staffers close to Bohn.
By the fall of 2019, one of the top female staffers in Cincinnati’s athletics department had already reached a breaking point with Bohn. Karen Hatcher, Cincinnati’s executive senior associate athletic director of principal gifts, met with Title IX investigators on Oct. 29, 2019, three days before The Times reported that Bohn was finalizing a deal with USC to be its next athletic director. USC’s hire of Bohn wasn’t made official for another five days.
Hatcher, who is Black, had been promoted into her current fundraising role by Bohn soon after his arrival in 2014. But, according to investigation notes obtained via a records request, their relationship “became more contentious as there were a number of unsettling interactions she experienced with [Bohn].”
One interaction, which was not described in the note summarizing the case, left Hatcher especially unsettled, according to three sources at Cincinnati with knowledge of the incident.
The sources say Bohn, while recounting an episode of a television game show to Hatcher and another senior staff member, repeatedly made racially insensitive comments disparaging the intelligence of a Black family competing on the show.
Steven Rosfeld, the other senior staff member present and who is white, eventually brought concerns about “disrespectful, unprofessional remarks” made by Bohn to the university’s human resources department. The investigation note indicates that he eventually spoke with a Cincinnati assistant athletic director about Bohn on Oct. 30, 2019.
Hatcher and Rosfeld told Title IX investigators that Bohn previously accused Hatcher of “playing the race card” after she raised concerns about the lack of minority employees being promoted. Both told investigators that they heard Bohn make “disrespectful comments” about the race of Cincinnati president, Dr. Neville Pinto. (Pinto is Indian.) The report did not specify the comments Bohn was accused of making. Another female staff member who asked not to be identified to avoid an adverse impact on her career told The Times she heard Bohn make a racially insensitive comment about Pinto in front of Cincinnati supporters.
Omar Banks, a former executive senior associate athletic director at Cincinnati, who is Black, told investigators that he heard Bohn question Hatcher’s knowledge of her position and say that “she was only successful in athletics because she is an African American woman.”
Banks told investigators that after he told Bohn he was interviewing for other positions outside of the school, Bohn began taking away his job responsibilities and told senior athletics staff in a meeting that schools were only pursuing Banks because he is Black. Hatcher corroborated that account as part of the university’s investigation.
That negative treatment, Banks told investigators, led him to leave Cincinnati. He went on to work at Virginia Tech and later served as the athletic director at Campbell University in North Carolina.
The other female staff member who filed an official Title IX complaint said she also left in part because of Bohn’s treatment of her.
According to the official complaint, she said in a December 2019 interview with Title IX officers that she received an offer from another Power Five school the previous September, but turned it down after Bohn offered assurances that Cincinnati would offer her a $15,000 raise and a courtesy car if she would stay. Soon after she turned down the job, Bohn reneged on those assurances, she said.
She told investigators that Bohn accused her of lying about receiving the offer from the other institution in a meeting with her supervisor. The woman provided Cincinnati Title IX investigators with copies of text messages confirming she’d received the offer.
“She felt that her character was being questioned by Bohn, indicating that he would repeatedly say that [she] only wants money,” the complaint states.
She told The Times the meeting was “traumatic” and “mentally exhausting.” She left the department in 2021 after Cincinnati issued its report.
Bohn was not the primary respondent in the Title IX complaint, so he was not named in the findings focused on the woman’s supervisor.
The five female Cincinnati employees who spoke to The Times each said they felt a mix of relief and frustration when Bohn left for USC.
“We were all ecstatic that he left [for USC], but kind of angry at the same time,” McGraw said. “He didn’t have to pay for any of the damage that he did while he was at UC.
“I just don’t understand why it took them so long.”