Photo: University of Cincinnati

A former University of Cincinnati women’s volleyball player has filed a lawsuit against her old coach, charging that she repeatedly body-shamed her and then dropped her from the team because of Instagram photos that were deemed “too sexy.”

Shalom Ifeanyi filed the lawsuit March 20 against her former coach, Molly Alvey, and Cincinnati’s executive senior associate athletic director, Maggie McKinley, citing sexual and racial discrimination. Courthouse News Service was the first to obtain the court documents and break the news.

According to court documents, Ifeanyi says that Alvey aggressively recruited her throughout high school and college, persuading her to transfer from Oregon State to the University of Cincinnati. The 19-year-old college student says that once she joined the team, however, Alvey began “harassing and shaming” her, repeatedly calling attention to photos Ifeanyi posted to social media that Alvey considered “too sexy.”

The lawsuit notes that Ifeanyi was fully clothed in all the images Alvey found offensive, but more notably, none of Ifeanyi’s teammates seemed to be subjected to the same scrutiny.

“No such requests were made to other members of the women’s volleyball team who were of slighter build and lighter complexion despite photographs picturing them in outfits, including but not limited to, two-piece swimsuits,” Ifeanyi’s lawsuit claims.

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According to the suit, Ifeanyi complied with her coach’s requests and edited her Instagram account so it only featured headshots. But during a June 2017 meeting where the two were talking over Ifeanyi’s prospects for the upcoming volleyball season, Alvey confronted Ifeanyi again about her Instagram profile picture.

“‘When the football players see this, what do you think they see?’” Alvey allegedly told her player, pulling up the photo. “‘They see your breasts. It’s seductive.’”

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Ifeanyi says she deleted the photo, but screenshots of text exchanges between Coach Alvey and Ifeanyi included in the lawsuit show that the coach continued requesting that Ifeanyi take down photos, including one of her in a black tank top that shows her from the chest up.

The student-athlete eventually stood up to Alvey, writing to her coach: “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.”

She went on to defend the pictures, saying that she had posted them because she had just gotten her hair and makeup done and liked the way she looked.

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“My teammates have swimsuit photos that are more revealing than me in a tank top,” Ifeanyi pointed out, adding that she felt she was being sexualized.

“There’s a history of black women because of their bodies being sexualized and that’s what appears to be happening to me,” Ifeanyi told Alvey over text message. “I can’t help the way I’m built. I am not trying to argue, I just feel like I have to be flat chested or real skinny in order to post.”

One week after the exchange, Ifeanyi was kicked off the team.

According to the suit, the only explanation she received was that she and Alvey had “different philosophies.” In the week between the text exchange and her dismissal, Ifeanyi had been named a “top performer of the week” by her coaches, Courthouse News reports.

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While Ifeanyi filed a Title IX complaint with the university soon after being kicked off the team, she alleges that the investigation wasn’t completed; nor was she given a “meaningful opportunity” to appeal the decision, prompting her to file the lawsuit.

The dismissal also effectively ended her college volleyball career, her suit adds.

According to Yahoo! Lifestyle, Ifeanyi had suffered a knee injury that kept her out of competition for much of the 2016-2017 season. The volleyball player maintains that she was committed to her rehab and workouts, however. Still, her dismissal meant that she was ineligible to renew her athletic scholarship at Cincinnati past 2018.

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And since the NCAA mandates that athletes transferring from another school sit out a year, Ifeanyi wouldn’t be able to play competitively until 2019, “effectively ending any potential ability for [Ifeanyi] to rely on an athletic scholarship for payment of tuition and related costs,” according to her lawsuit.

Ifeanyi has since enrolled in another university to complete her education, but her suit notes that being kicked off the team delayed and disrupted her education, affecting her future earning potential upon graduating.

Ifeanyi says that she suffered pain and suffering “in the form of humiliation, frustration, aggravation, anger and depression” as a result of the dismissal and is seeking damages, attorney fees and costs.

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A spokesperson for the University of Cincinnati’s athletic department told Yahoo! Lifestyle that he was “unable to comment on the allegations.”