Penn State fencing assistant fired over groping allegation

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STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (AP) — A woman says she told Penn State University's head fencing coach that one of his assistants had groped her on a plane, but the coach failed to report her accusation to the school as required.

Jennifer Oldham, a North Carolina fencing coach, told The Philadelphia Inquirer that she was aboard a December 2017 flight with a group of fencing coaches returning from a competition when Penn State assistant George "Gia" Abashidze repeatedly asked her for sex, touched her knee, arm and upper leg, then grabbed her crotch.

Oldham said she told head coach Wes Glon what happened. Glon had Abashidze apologize to Oldham, but informed her he did not report the incident to Penn State, the newspaper reported. "No one will believe you," Oldham said he told her.

Oldham's husband, Jeff Kallio, who runs the Mid-South Fencers' Club in Durham, North Carolina, with her, eventually reported his wife's accusation and Glon's alleged inaction to Penn State Athletic Director Sandy Barbour. Penn State launched an investigation and fired Abashidze on March 4.

Penn State confirmed it also investigated Glon's conduct, but declined to say whether he faced any discipline over his alleged failure to report. Under Penn State policy, coaches are required to report sexual harassment complaints.

Abashidze declined comment to the newspaper, as did Glon, who has been on the fencing team's coaching staff for more than three decades and was named its head coach since 2013. The women's team was runner-up at the NCAA national fencing championship in March.

Penn State's investigative report, obtained by The Inquirer, indicates Glon had determined Oldham's accusation was "difficult to believe."

But Oldham's account was corroborated by another passenger on the plane, Lewis Vaden, who told school investigators that Abashidze appeared to be drunk when he boarded, and that he overheard Abashidze propositioning her as she continued to say no. He said he saw Abashidze touching her.

"It was disturbing," Vaden, a fencing supply company vendor from New Brunswick, New Jersey, said in an interview. "It was just a complete violation of her space." After the incident, Vaden said, "I felt bad that I didn't haul off and slug him."

Oldham and her lawyer filed a complaint with Penn State last month over Glon's handling of the case. They are also considering legal action.

"I thought it was obvious this was wrong," she said.

Abashidze, a native of former Soviet republic of Georgia, had coached at Penn State since 2009. He's also coached several Olympians and coached the Georgian National Fencing team.

The U.S. Center for SafeSport, the office charged with overseeing sex-abuse cases in Olympic sports, suspended Abashidze for three years for sexual misconduct but later reduced it to one year after he appealed.


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