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Harvard diving coach resigns amid sex misconduct allegations in class action suit

Chris Heaton had been placed on leave after claims in a lawsuit that he solicited nude photos from female athletes while working in Indiana in 2015.
Image: Harvard University Campus
Harvard says it was unaware of any sexual misconduct allegations against Chris Heaton before hiring him as diving coach in August.Joe Raedle / Getty Images file

A Harvard University diving coach who had been placed on leave after a class-action lawsuit alleged sexual misconduct has resigned, the university said on Tuesday.

Harvard Athletic Director Bob Scalise said in a brief statement that Chris Heaton, 31, "has decided to step down from his role."

"Tracey Bird will step in as the new interim coach, effective immediately," Harvard said, and "a national search for a successor will be conducted."

Heaton was not named as a defendant in the class-action lawsuit, but the suit alleges that he solicited nude photographs from young female athletes at an Indiana diving school. He allegedly sent photos of his penis to female athletes while at the Ripfest Diving Camp in Indiana in 2015, according to the suit.

Fifty women are listed as defendants, all but one are listed as Jane Does. Heaton did not respond to requests from NBC News last week, and an attempt to reach him Tuesday night was not successful.

Harvard has said that it was unaware of any allegations of sexual misconduct when Heaton was hired as the head coach for diving in August of 2018. After learning of the allegations from media reports, the university said it immediately placed him on leave.

The suit names USA Diving, a national governing body of the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), and its state-level administrative body the Indiana Diving Association in failing to protect athletes abused at the Indiana Diving Academy (Ripfest). Ripfest owner John Wingfield, and former coach Johel Ramirez Suarez are also defendants.

Suarez was arrested in November of 2017 after three women accused him of rubbing their vaginal areas when he was supposed to help them stretch at diving camps operated by Ripfest, the Indianapolis Star reported. Court records show Suarez pleaded guilty to three counts of battery this past September and was sentenced to about a year and half in jail.

Neither Ripfest nor Wingfield responded to NBC News' request for comment last week. Neither USA Diving nor the U.S. Olympic Committee responded to NBC’s request for comment on the allegations against Heaton and Ripfest.