Sex assault lawsuit names Roethlisberger
A Nevada casino worker instructed to make sure that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had a "nice trip" during a celebrity golf tournament last year claims in a lawsuit that the two-time Super Bowl winner sexually assaulted her in his hotel room.
She claims he grabbed, fondled and kissed her in his 17th-floor room after asking her to fix a broken sound system on his television.
Mr. Roethlisberger then had forcible intercourse with her on his bed even though she begged him not to and warned him she was not using birth control, according to the complaint.
The lawsuit also claims that high-ranking officials at Harrah's Lake Tahoe Resort -- including the hotel's president, John Koster, purported to be a close friend of Mr. Roethlisberger's, and its security chief, Guy Hyder -- "reached an agreement" not to investigate the alleged assault and brushed off her complaints.
When the woman confided in Mr. Hyder, he told her she was "overreacting" and said "most girls would feel lucky to get to have sex with someone like Ben Roethlisberger," the complaint said.
Mr. Roethlisberger's lawyer issued a brief statement Monday denying the "viciously false allegations" and questioned why the woman never went to authorities.
"Ben has never sexually assaulted anyone," said William David Cornwell Sr. "The timing of the lawsuit and the absence of a criminal complaint and a criminal investigation are the most compelling evidence of the absence of any criminal conduct. If an investigation is commenced, Ben will cooperate fully and Ben will be fully exonerated."
Steelers spokesman Dave Lockett said yesterday that neither team President Art Rooney II nor coach Mike Tomlin would comment on the matter.
"At this point, we've heard his side of the story," Mr. Lockett said. "We're not expecting to make a statement. All I would say is we're aware of it, it's in litigation and we can't comment on it. That's where we're leaving it at this point."
The complaint, filed Friday in Washoe County, Nev., seeks more than $380,000 for lost wages and medical bills and unspecified additional punitive and general damages.
Last year, Mr. Roethlisberger signed an eight-year, $102 million contract with the Steelers.
The complaint names Mr. Roethlisberger and eight Harrah's employees, but not the hotel and casino chain itself.
The woman's lawyer, Calvin R. X. Dunlap, left open the possibility that Harrah's could be added as a defendant along with other individuals.
The defendants either had no comment or could not be reached.
Harrah's Entertainment spokeswoman Jacqueline Peterson said the casino and hotel chain had no comment, citing the pending litigation.
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette does not name alleged victims of sexual assault. Mr. Dunlap said his client is in her early 30s but he would not say where she lives in Nevada. The lawsuit said that as recently as October, she lived in Lake Tahoe.
An NFL spokesman said there was not enough information available about the lawsuit to comment or say whether the league's personal conduct policy might apply to Mr. Roethlisberger.
The policy gives NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wide leeway to discipline a player he judges to have violated the league's standard of conduct.
Among the various circumstances the policy lists where discipline can be imposed are these two that could apply to Mr. Roethlisberger: "Conduct that imposes inherent danger to the safety and well-being of another person," and "Conduct that undermines or puts at risk the integrity and reputation of the NFL, NFL clubs, or NFL players."
At the time of the alleged incident last July, the woman was an "executive casino host" who also worked as a concierge for the American Century Celebrity golf tournament, an annual event that Mr. Roethlisberger attends.
The tournament regularly attracts high-profile athletes, coaches, other sports figures and celebrities. The lawsuit said retired pro basketball superstars Michael Jordan and Charles Barkley attended last year.
Mr. Koster, who is listed in the complaint as president of the resort, was paired with Mr. Roethlisberger last year for the golf event, the complaint says.
The complaint said the woman learned that Mr. Koster "boasted" about his friendship with Mr. Roethlisberger. She said she was introduced to Mr. Roethlisberger July 10, 2008, by a hotel employee, and the two talked about fly fishing.
After that chat, Mr. Hyder "emphasized how important it was for plaintiff to ensure that Roethlisberger had a nice trip."
Those words apparently lingered in the woman's mind.
Around 10 p.m. the next day, she was at her post on the hotel's 17th floor when Mr. Roethlisberger stopped by to talk with her and others for about 20 minutes. He mentioned that his TV sound system was not working and asked her several times to fix it.
"Mindful of Hyder's earlier admonition that Koster wanted to be sure that Roethlisberger had a good trip, and because of Roethlisberger's insistence, plaintiff complied with Roethlisberger's demand that she go to fix the television," the suit said.
She discovered that the TV was working, but when she tried to leave, Mr. Roethlisberger blocked her way, fondled her and pushed her onto his bed, the complaint says. Then, he removed her underwear and forced her to have sex, she alleges.
Afterward, the woman splashed water on her face in his bathroom and "tried to pull herself together."
"There are cameras on this room, aren't there?" Mr. Roethlisberger allegedly asked her.
"Yes," she replied, "There are cameras everywhere."
"Roethlisberger, acting very worried, sternly instructed her, 'If anyone asks you, you fixed my television. You fixed my television. Now go!' " he said sternly, according to the suit.
The complaint details a year-long battle that the woman says she waged against her bosses, depression and anxiety. The woman assumed hotel security would investigate and notify the hotel's executives, the complaint said.
She did not go to the police because she "was afraid of the consequences of reporting it to police authorities since it was obvious to her that Harrah's and its personnel, particularly Hyder and Koster, would side with and support Roethlisberger, the celebrity friend of Koster," according to the complaint.
Asked why his client did not go to police, Mr. Dunlap said the conversation she had with Mr. Hyder was tantamount to approaching the authorities.
"Those of us who have lived in this state for a long time know that's effectively like going to the police," said Mr. Dunlap, who was Washoe County district attorney from 1979 to 1983.
Asked why it took his client a year to file suit, Mr. Dunlap said only, "A large percentage of women never report it to anyone."
Sharon Flanary, administrative assistant for Washoe County District Attorney Richard Gammick, where the complaint was filed, confirmed that no criminal complaint had been filed there. She said there was no investigation involving any charges against Mr. Roethlisberger.
Likewise, no criminal complaint was filed in Douglas County, the location of Lake Tahoe.
"Everyone's been calling, but we have nothing," said Douglas County Sheriff's Deputy Teresa Duffy. "There's been no criminal complaint. The DA's office has nothing, either."
The complaint blames Mr. Hyder for failing to preserve any physical evidence of the alleged assault, interview witnesses or conduct an investigation.
The woman was in and out of a half-dozen hospitals since the alleged incident, ringing up $380,000 in medical bills, the suit says.
She claims that in the aftermath of the alleged assault, she had a nervous breakdown and was diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and depression. She returned to work, but felt her concerns fell on deaf ears. Worried she would be fired, she hired a lawyer.
Mr. Dunlap is prominent in Nevada legal circles. He represents the wife of the state's governor in their divorce. His law partner, Monique Laxalt, is the niece of Nevada's former governor and U.S. senator Paul Laxalt.
According to the complaint, while Mr. Roethlisberger was invited back to Harrah's during this year's golf tournament, which took place last week, the resort "insisted" that the woman take a paid two-week leave "to accommodate her assailant."
The suit lists 12 claims, including assault, sexual assault and battery, false imprisonment, fraud, false pretenses, and intentional infliction of emotional distress against Mr. Roethlisberger and claims of invasion of privacy and defamation against the other defendants.
In addition to Mr. Roethlisberger, Mr. Koster and Mr. Hyder, the other defendants are: Dave Monroe, vice president of food and hotel operations; Mike Rosenow, vice president of human resources; Debbie Neall, employee relations manager; Mark Masters, a security worker; Stacy Dingman, former director of hotels; and Bryan Casuscelli, director of player development and Mr. Roethlisberger's "executive casino host."
First Published July 22, 2009 12:00 am