Lawsuit alleges JU let track coach’s ‘malicious’ behavior go unchecked for years

Parents of Julia Pernsteiner suing Jacksonville University, former track & cross country coach Ron Grigg

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The parents of a Jacksonville University student who died by suicide are suing the school and its former track and cross country coach, alleging the school did not support their daughter academically and ignored complaints about how the coach treated runners.

Ray and Lynne Pernsteiner lost their daughter, Julia, in November 2021. She was 23 years old.

The Pernsteiners, who live in Minnesota, spoke with News4JAX’s Vic Micolucci in August.

“It’s devastating. How do you lose a daughter?” Lynne Pernsteiner said. “There are no words.”

They said they wanted to implement change.

“We don’t want other parents to have to relive this,” Ray Pernsteiner said.

Now, they’re taking action through the legal system, filing a lawsuit earlier this month against JU and former track and cross country coach Ron Grigg.

The lawsuit alleges the school let the coach’s emotionally abusive behavior go unchecked for years — despite multiple complaints — because his teams were competitive.

The suit describes Julia Pernsteiner as an outgoing vivacious, warm, athletic, and a loyal friend. The suit says that she was recruited by Grigg to run cross country and that the school promised support for her severe learning disabilities. It says she had an individualized education program that required accommodations such as a reader and a scribe, but that in the summer of 2021, those accommodations were not provided. The suit alleges Julia Pernsteiner’s grades suffered as a result, but JU refused to let her drop her summer courses.

The suit also alleges Julia Pernsteiner was at the receiving end of the coach’s “malicious, humiliating and demeaning comments.” The suit claims he attacked her intelligence and “fat shamed” women runners, conducting weekly weigh-ins and demanding an unrealistic and unhealthy body mass index, or BMI.

“It’s horrible. It shouldn’t be done,” said Lori Osachy, with River Shores Counseling.

Osachy is a mental health counselor who specializes in body image. She is not affiliated with this case.

“BMI is not the greatest way to measure health,” Osachy said. “Anyway, there are a lot of studies that show the BMI shouldn’t even be used.”

The suit alleges other JU runners said they also saw or experienced emotional abuse and bullying by the coach.

Julia Pernsteiner’s parents say that she was kicked off the team and that her pleas for help went unanswered, spiraling into depression and desperation.

Grigg is no longer with the school. An internal investigation at JU prompted the coach to resign about eight months after Julia Pernsteiner’s death.

News4JAX was not able to get in touch with Grigg. A spokesperson with JU said that the community continues to mourn Julia Pernsteiner’s tragic death and that per policy, they don’t comment on pending litigation.

If you or someone you know has a mental illness, is struggling emotionally or has concerns about their mental health, there are ways to get help. To reach the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline, call or text 988, and you will be connected with a trained crisis counselor. Or you can use Lifeline Chat on the web. The Lifeline provides 24-hour, confidential support to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.

About the Author:

I-TEAM and general assignment reporter