Fla. coach ‘humiliated,’ ‘fat shamed’ runner before suicide

The parents of a late disabled Florida student-athlete are suing the school and its former track and cross-country coach, who they say “humiliated” their daughter and ignored her cries for help before she took her own life.

Julia Pernsteiner, a 23-year-old student at Jacksonville University (JU) died in her dorm in 2021 — just two months after being cut from the cross-country team.

The wrongful death lawsuit filed on Feb. 3 by her parents, Ray and Lynne Perstiner, claims JU allowed the team’s coach, Ron Grigg, to torment the young women on the team.

Grigg recruited Persteiner, who had learning disabilities that impacted her reading, writing, spelling and math skills, to transfer to JU and join the cross-country team.

Ray and Lynne Perstiner, Julia’s parents, claim that the school allowed the team’s coach, Ron Grigg, to torment her.

Persteiner’s parents say JU did not meet the requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to provide their daughter the services she needed to succeed academically.

As her grades began to suffer, Persteiner tried to remain focused on her sport but was surrounded by “a toxic atmosphere of humiliation and intimidation,” the lawsuit says.

“Teammates recall Grigg taking a special satisfaction in humiliating Julia, referring to her as ‘retarded,’ the slowest f—— runner on the team’ and unable to ‘wipe your own a–,” the suit claims. “Julia, already struggling academically, now found that the sport she loved and found comfort in was the source of her coach’s targeted ridicule and harassment.”

Julia Pernsteiner
The wrongful death lawsuit notes that Julia tried to remain focused on her sport but was surrounded by “a toxic atmosphere of humiliation and intimidation.”
Duval County Court

The coach often “fat-shamed” the female runners, demanding they keep their body mass index under 10 percent. This type of behavior “prompted eating disorders in certain young, impressionable women on the team,” the court filing states.

The lawsuit says that Persteiner was not the only student to complain to the university about Grigg, but “the school closed ranks around Grigg and refused to take any action.”

A month after she was kicked off the team, Pernsteiner emailed the university’s athletic director Alex Ricker-Gilbert and told him she was “more than heartbroken.”

Julia Pernsteiner
The parents of the late Julia Pernsteiner are suing Jacksonville University and its former track coach, who they say “humiliated” their daughter.
Julia Pernsteiner Memorial Foundation

“I just don’t know where to go from here,” the email says. “I rely on the athletic academic help to do well. I would like to stay and work on improving my grades. I just am not able to do it myself. I’m looking for advice on how to proceed.”

Her email went unanswered and her concerns “spiraled into desperation and depression.” A month later, Pernsteiner died by suicide.

Grigg could not be reached for comment, the Florida Times-Union reported.

He resigned by July, soon after Ricker-Gilbert reported that the school received “concerning information” about the treatment of its student-athletes.

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