A woman charges in a lawsuit that Lou DiRienzo, who resigned recently as New Rochelle High School football coach, sexually abused her when she attended Lincoln High School in Yonkers in the 1980s while he was a teacher and football coach there.
The woman, who now lives in Monroe, New York, is suing the Yonkers schools under the state Child Victims Act, which opened a one-year window (through August 2021) in which people may sue for abuse regardless of how long ago it took place. . She is seeking damages; no amount is specified.
She attended Lincoln from 1984-88 and describes in a court filing in state Supreme Court in Westchester County how DiRienzo began grooming her while she was an 11th-grader with the goal of sexually abusing her:
“The acts of grooming included but were not limited to, DiRienzo giving plaintiff money, allowing plaintiff to skip class with no consequences, giving plaintiff his car keys so she could drive DiRienzo’s car to the store during school hours and buy breakfast for plaintiff and DiRienzo and telling plaintiff he wanted her to be his girlfriend.”
Her lawyer, Michael Dowd, said his client “is certain” that there are more victims.
“That’s why she’s coming forward now,” he said. “My client is certain that he did this to other girls before and after her, and she wants them to know that they did nothing wrong and that it’s OK to speak up.”
Coach Lou DiRienzo on the field as New Rochelle defeated Carmel to win the Section 1 championship at Mahopac High School Nov. 9, 2019. (Photo: Frank Becerra Jr./The Journal News)
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The woman said in the court filing that DiRienzo sexually abused her between about 1986 and 1988. She was a cheerleader and he told her to meet him during school hours or after cheerleading and football practice. He kissed her on the mouth, fondled her and cajoled her to engage in oral sex, to masturbation of him and sexual intercourse, according to the filing.
The abuse was said to have taken place in DiRienzo’s car, the school’s weight room and at a DiRienzo friend’s home. The former student accused DiRienzo of abusing her about 12 times.
She says that because of the abuse she sustained “physical and psychological injuries, including but not limited to, severe emotional distress, depression, humiliation, embarrassment, fright, anger, anxiety, and loss of educational opportunity.” She also suffered “pain and mental anguish, emotional and psychological damage,” some of a permanent and lasting nature forcing her to spend money for medical expenses.
“This case represents another instance where a person who is in a position of power abused their power to sexually abuse a student at a high school,” Dowd said.
Last February, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the landmark Child Victims Act, giving victims of sexual abuse a one-year window to file a lawsuit no matter when the abuse is alleged to have occurred.
“More of these cases are coming out with the coaches and teachers,” Dowd said. “Many of these victims were able unable to speak about the abuse at the time, and some couldn’t talk about it until 30 or 40 years after. This new law allows for justice to be served.”
The woman is suing the school district, saying school staff and administrators knew or should have known what DiRienzo was doing and failed to act, even after she told one of her teachers that she was “sexually involved” with him. The district also retained DiRienzo despite his behavior, failed to train students and staff to recognize sexual abuse, failed to report DiRienzo’s abuse to authorities as required and failed to protect the safety of students.
Coach Lou DiRienzo photographed prior to the Westchester Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony at Westchester County Center in White Plains on Thursday, October 17, 2019. (Photo: John Meore/The Journal News)
DiRienzo could not immediately be reached for comment. The Yonkers and New Rochelle school districts declined to comment.
DiRienzo resigned as a teacher and head football coach at New Rochelle High School effective Dec. 31. He had been reassigned in November after an incident at the high school. School officials wouldn’t give details, but members of his family and the public said that he helped a student at the high school, to whom he is related, leave campus with her parent after she was in distress.
During his reassignment, news came out that Yonkers police were investigating allegations made by a former local high school student who accused DiRienzo of incidents involving “unlawful contact” between DiRienzo and that student in the late 1980s. It was not immediately clear if it involved the woman who brought the lawsuit.
DiRienzo announced his resignation Dec. 11.
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