“A toxic atmosphere of humiliation”: Many questions unanswered in Julia Pernsteiner’s suicide

JACKSONVILLE, Florida — The parents of a former student at Jacksonville University who killed herself say that her time as an athlete there was “a toxic environment of humiliation.”

Julia Pernsteiner’s parents have filed a lawsuit against Ron Grigg, the former director of the Track and Field and Cross-Country Teams, saying that he made fun of and picked on their 23-year-old daughter, Julia, over and over again.

Ray and Lynne Persteiner sued JU and Grigg because, they say, Grigg recruited and coached Julia until 2021, when he kicked her off the track team. Then, according to her parents, she became sad and desperate.

In a lawsuit filed in early February, the young women he coached at JU are accused of being “fat shamed” and “ridiculed” by Grigg.

New documents show that the Pernsteiners say their daughter, who moved to JU in January 2021, was “targeted” by the longtime coach. The lawsuit says that Grigg would kick her off the team in the fall because she did badly in school.

Marci Hamilton, the founder and CEO of CHILD USA, says that getting bad grades and being verbally abused is a recipe for disaster.

“That’s just a recipe for bad mental health effects,” Hamilton said.

The Pernsteiners say in the filing that Julia’s grades dropped because JU “failed to provide the promised and agreed upon reasonable accommodations” that she was entitled to under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Julia needed to use the academic support center, but it was closed during the summer semester of 2021, so she “was unable to finish assignments and exams.” JU reportedly turned down her request to drop the classes, which hurt her grades.

In a statement, JU said, “The students, faculty, and staff of Jacksonville University continue to mourn Julia’s tragic death, and we’re sorry for the Pernsteiner family’s loss.” Per university policy, we don’t talk about lawsuits that are still going on.”

Hamilton says it’s clear that some college coaches all over the country treat their athletes badly, and it’s time for big changes.

Hamilton said, “We hope our universities are safe places for our kids to go.” “And they are supposed to give our children a safety net, and that includes in sports.”

In the lawsuit, Julia’s teammates say that Grigg treated her in a “cruel and mean” way. One of them even says that he made inappropriate sexual comments to her.

Julia sent an email to JU’s athletic director in October 2021 asking for help, but she didn’t hear back.

Now, Julia’s parents say that JU didn’t give the runner “the necessary academic resources” and didn’t “properly supervise” Grigg, which led to her depression, anxiety, and panic attacks.

Ray and Lynne Pernsteiner want to have a jury trial. First Coast News asked the couple and their lawyer for their thoughts. We still haven’t heard anything.

Grigg was not reachable.

Lowell Bowen

From the time he was 8 years old Lowell knew he wanted to be on TV. Well, as people say one thing leads to another, that's how Lowell started his career in the news industry. Lowell has been part of The South Florida Daily since the very beginning.

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