In court documents shared with PEOPLE, 19-year-old Shalom Ifeanyi alleges that she was discriminated against on the basis of race and gender by Molly Alvey, the head women’s volleyball coach at the University of Cincinnati, who kicked her off the team in June 2017, thus terminating her athletic scholarship. Ifeanyi is also suing the school and Maggie McKinley, the executive senior associate athletic director.
A representative from the University of Cincinnati’s athletic department told PEOPLE that they are unable to comment on a pending lawsuit.
In the lawsuit, Ifeanyi says that “almost immediately” after she joined the team in January 2017, after she was heavily recruited by Alvey and transferred from another university, Alvey started “harassing and shaming” her for the photos on her social media account.
Ifeanyi says she was “fully clothed” in all of the photos, but Alvey told her the images were “too sexy.” Fearing retaliation, Ifeanyi elected to remove the photos and only post headshots going forward. But, she adds, her teammates with a “slighter build and lighter complexion” were posting photos of themselves in two-piece swimsuits, without any complaints from Alvey.
Alvey called Ifeanyi to her office again on June 19 and told her to open her Instagram profile, and allegedly told Ifeanyi, “When the football players see this, what do you think they see? They see your breasts. It’s seductive.”
Ifeanyi again chose to remove the photo in question, but two days later, Alvey texted her two other images and said, “Shalom, please remove these pictures today.” Frustrated, Ifeanyi wrote back:
“Ok Coach However I feel like I’m being body shamed because I’m not flat chested. I’m not trying to show my boobs coach, I can’t make them go away … There is a history of black women because of their bodies being sexualized and that’s what appears to be happening to me.”
Alvey did not respond to Ifeanyi’s text message, and on June 29, she removed her from the team, citing “different philosophies.” Alvey also forced her out of the athletic dorm, and gave her room to another student-athlete.
In the nine months since, Ifeanyi has filed a Title IX complaint against Alvey and McKinley, which she says the school has not investigated. She also says she has to transfer to another school next semester because she cannot afford to stay at the University of Cincinnati without her athletic scholarship, and under NCAA transfer rules, she will be unable to play volleyball for the entire 2018-2019 season.
Between the loss of scholarship, playing time and “pain and suffering in the form of humiliation, frustration, aggravation, anger and depression,” according to the lawsuit, Ifeanyi is seeking “compensatory damages, punitive damages, reasonable attorney fees, costs and all other relief to which she may be entitled.”