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Jacksonville University ignored pleas for help from a student with a learning disability who died by suicide two months after being dismissed from the Florida institution’s cross-country team, according to a wrongful death lawsuit.
Julia Pernsteiner, 23, died in her dorm room Nov. 8, 2021, according to the lawsuit filed this month by her parents against the university and its former cross-country coach, Ronald E. Grigg Jr., who the lawsuit alleges referred to Pernsteiner as “retarded” and also “attacked her about her weight.”
After being dismissed from the team, Pernsteiner “continued to reach out for help to JU staff” and wrote an email to the university’s athletic director three weeks before her death asking for advice, the lawsuit states.
“I would like to stay and work on improving my grades,” Pernsteiner wrote, adding, “I just am not able to do it myself,” according to the lawsuit. The university had previously agreed to provide “necessary” services and accommodations she qualified for under the Americans With Disabilities Act, according to the lawsuit.
“When her pleas for help went unanswered Julia’s frustration spiraled into desperation and depression,” the lawsuit states.
Pernsteiner had been recruited by Grigg to join the cross-country team, and she enrolled at the university in spring 2021. The lawsuit states that she and others on the team told university officials about Grigg’s conduct, which the lawsuit describes as “oppressive, threatening, bullying, condescending and demeaning” toward many team members.
Grigg’s resignation was announced in July amid allegations that he had bullied runners.
Jacksonville University does not comment on pending litigation, a spokeswoman told The Florida Times-Union, but she said, “The students, faculty and staff of Jacksonville University continue to mourn Julia’s tragic death and we sympathize with the Pernsteiner family for their loss.”