Open records: Mike Bohn left Cincinnati for USC amid investigation

Andy Wittry05/25/23
Article written by:On3 imageAndy Wittry



Former USC athletic director Mike Bohn left the same position at Cincinnati in 2019 less than two weeks after a UC Foundation employee met with investigators from the university’s Office of Equal Opportunity & Access (OEOA) regarding Bohn’s “alleged discriminatory and other professional misconduct in violation of the University Policy,” according to an investigation note obtained by On3 through a public records request.

On3 requested comment from Bohn through a voicemail and text message. He hasn’t responded at the time of publishing.

Bohn resigned last Friday afternoon, one day after the Los Angeles Times sent him and USC questions regarding concerns about his conduct and leadership. In 2022, Bohn was named the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics (NACDA) Athletic Director of the Year.

The Times reported that at USC, “Bohn made inappropriate comments about the physical appearance of female colleagues, including remarks about their dress, hair and weight, that staff members said made them feel uncomfortable, according to two USC sources with knowledge of the incidents.”

The Cincinnati investigation note, which is dated May 2020, outlines allegations from three current or former UC Foundation or athletic department employees. It was one of three documented investigations or reviews obtained by On3 in response to a public records request for a copy of Bohn’s annual performance reviews and any investigations involving Bohn.

In 2017, Cincinnati’s Title IX Office opened an investigation into an alleged pay disparity that the office later closed because the witness indicated “informing Bohn of the allegations could cause tensions in her workplace,” according to a memo obtained by On3.

The complainant who was named in the investigation note reported the alleged harassment in October 2019 and brought concerns about Bohn’s conduct, including allegedly “racially harassing and other unprofessional remarks,” to the UC Foundation Human Resources office. UC Foundation HR then forwarded them to the OEOA, according to the investigation note.

A footnote in the investigation note says Bohn left his position as Cincinnati’s athletic director on Nov. 7, 2019, when USC announced the hiring of Bohn and less than two weeks after the complainant met with investigators at Cincinnati. On3 requested comment from the USC Office of the President, held by Dr. Carol Folt, as well as Cincinnati’s athletic department, regarding whether USC was aware of the investigations and review when it hired Bohn.

“During the course of the investigation, the Respondent left the university to take a position at another institution,” according to the investigation note from 2020. “While the allegations may have constituted evidence of a violation of university policy, there is no opportunity for the Respondent to answer, as he departed before there was an opportunity for OEOA to address the concerns with him.”

Complainant alleged racially harassing remarks from Mike Bohn

The investigation note states the complainant met with investigators “regarding her concerns that the Respondent engaged in discriminatory and/or disrespectful conduct in violation of University Policies. Specifically, the complainant alleged that the Respondent made racially harassing and other unprofessional remarks about her and other individuals in the athletics department.”

The investigation note says that to substantiate an allegation of harassment in violation of University policy, a preponderance of the evidence must demonstrate that it is more likely than not that the alleged conduct occurred and that its occurrence created a hostile working environment.

The investigation says the complainant and Bohn had a “congenial professional relationship as the Respondent promoted the complainant … However, their relationship became more contentious as there were a number of unsettling interactions she experienced with the Respondent.”

The complainant alleged that when she was “developing a diverse pool of applicants” while hiring for a position, Bohn “remarked to her that it was taking too long for her to hire someone that that ‘I’d be careful with diverse pools,'” according to the investigation note. The investigation note says the complainant told investigators she complained about the “lack of minorities being promoted” and another employee at the UC Foundation told her that Bohn said she had “pulled the race card.”

The complainant also alleged that Bohn said a former athletic department employee received interview offers only because he was a Black man, and “made disrespectful comments about President [Neville] Pinto‘s race,” according to the investigation note. The second UC Foundation employee also alleged that Bohn made “disrespectful comments about President Pinto’s race to him,” according to the investigation note.

The investigation note states, “In addition, the complainant stated that many of her colleagues feared retaliation if they voiced their concerns, however, the complainant did not have the same concerns as she is in a position when we can retire at any time.”

A copy of Bohn’s 2015-16 performance evaluation – the only year for which Cincinnati provided a copy of his performance evaluation – shows a checked box for “outstanding” regarding his goal to “retain and advance professional development minority/women leaders of seasoned staff and those at the Director Level/Head Coaches.” He also received “outstanding” marks for teamwork/collaboration, ethics and leadership, and an “exceeds expectations” evaluation for accountability, customer service, professionalism, cultural competence and employee management.

His overall rating was outstanding.

UC Foundation employee brought concerns ‘along with’ complainant

The investigation note says the second UC Foundation employee initially brought his concerns along with the complainant to the UC Foundation HR department, stating that “the Respondent made disrespectful, unprofessional remarks about the complainant and other staff members.”

On the day USC announced it hired Bohn, a former athletic department employee spoke with an investigator at Cincinnati and the former employee said that Bohn made “disrespectful unprofessional statements about the complainant,” according to the investigation note, including “the Respondent stated to him that the complainant is only successful in athletics because she is an African American woman and he challenged her knowledge of her position.”

The former athletic department employee told an investigator that Bohn began to take away duties from him and consulted with him less, according to the investigation note. “Due to the Respondent’s negative treatment of him, he felt devalued and left the University for an opportunity at another institution,” according to the investigation note.

Administrative review of Cincinnati started in October 2019

The investigation note lists Oct. 29, 2019, as the day when the complainant met with investigators regarding Bohn’s alleged behavior.

A second document, which was labeled as an administrative review report, obtained by On3 lists investigators from both the OEOA and Office of Gender, Equity & Inclusion regarding a “complaint of alleged professional misconduct in violation of the University of Cincinnati Code of Conduct, and/or Conduct Policy.”

The administrative review, outlined in the second document, included interviews that also started on Oct. 29, 2019, and ended in February 2020. According to the document, the investigators conducted 27 interviews after “athletic department staff members who raised concerns about treatment toward them and an administrative review was conducted to access the climate and culture of the athletics department as a whole and to gather the concerns of professional misconduct, unprofessional and disrespectful conduct.”

According to the document, several staff members described the “climate and culture in athletics as having a toxic atmosphere and they do not feel comfortable in the Lindner Center building.”

The allegations under the subheading of “Professional Misconduct” include that “staff members stated that several internal promotions or reclassifications occurred without a staff member being aware that the positions were available there, they did not have an opportunity to apply for the positions. Several staff members expressed there is an ‘in crowd’ and if you are not in the ‘in crowd’ you are not afforded leadership development to acquire new skillsets to be eligible for promotions. … Staff members stated there is a lack of diversity in senior leadership positions and no recruitment of minorities for those positions.”

The investigation found that “in consideration of all of the evidence, there is sufficient evidence to support a conclusion that staff members may have engaged in conduct in violation of the University’s Code of Conduct and/or Conduct Policy.”

The document outlined recommendations that the athletic department acts transparently in all position openings to allow staff members the opportunity to fill them. The document also includes a recommendation that “all of the athletics staff and student-athletes attend training sessions on creating a culture of respect and inclusion.”

A 2019 memo from Title IX investigator

On3 also obtained a memo, which was dated Aug. 17, 2017, from a Title IX investigator. On March 30, 2017, another investigator met with an athletic department employee as a witness in a Title IX investigation, according to the memo.

The witness “indicated that she had previously attempted to address a concern about pay disparity with UC Athletic director, (sic) Mike Bohn.” After the departure of another athletic department employee, the employee’s responsibilities were delegated between three employees, including the witness, the witness told the investigator.

The female witness said she was offered a temporary 6% pay raise while the two male employees were offered 8% pay increases, according to the memo. The witness alleged that when she asked Bohn why she didn’t receive an 8% raise, Bohn allegedly told her, “It’s not an age or gender thing.” Bohn then allegedly offered her an 8% pay increase, according to the memo.

The witness alleged Bohn took notes during the meeting and he asked her to sign the notes “indicating that the issue pertaining to pay disparity had been resolved” and the witness wouldn’t file a complaint about the pay disparity with the university, according to the memo.

The memo states the investigator who met with the witness filed a report with the Title IX Office but the witness allegedly didn’t respond to an introductory letter from the Title IX Office that contained a notice of the allegation, a link to university resources and a request to meet with a Title IX investigator.

The witness then spoke with an investigator over the phone, and she stated that she didn’t want to pursue an investigation, according to the memo. The memo said the witness “indicated that she will be reporting to a new manager in the near future and felt as though informing Bohn of the allegations could cause tensions in her workplace,” adding that the witness said Bohn’s behavior changed since the time of the initial report.

The Title IX Office closed the investigation but the memo said the office planned to respond to the alleged misconduct by “offering targeting training to the Athletics Department regarding equity and discrimination in the employment setting.”

Additionally, On3 obtained an email that a Cincinnati employee, who said she spent more than 20 years working in the athletic department, sent to university employees in July 2019 regarding “concerns on how I was removed from my previous job and additional questions about my previous position.”

The email doesn’t name Bohn but Cincinnati provided it to On3 along with other documents in response to a public records request for Bohn’s annual reviews and records from any investigations involving him.