Daily Archives: February 10, 2016

This week, in Title IX litigation

It’s Tennessee’s turn to step up to the plate.

Six women filed a federal lawsuit on Tuesday claiming the University of Tennessee has created a student culture that enables sexual assaults by student-athletes, especially football players, and then uses an unusual, legalistic adjudication process that is biased against victims who step forward.

The lawsuit, filed by plaintiffs identified only as “Jane Does,” accuses five Tennessee athletes of sexual assault. They are former basketball player Yemi Makanjuola, former football players A.J. Johnson, Michael Williams and Riyahd Jones and a current football player named as a “John Doe.”

… In making its case that the university enabled an environment of bad behavior and used a disciplinary system that favored the players, the lawsuit cited more than a dozen incidents involving football players that included underage drinking, sexual harassment, assault, armed robbery and sexual assaults that did not involve the Jane Doe plaintiffs. Some of the incidents cited have previously never been reported.

What makes the situation in Knoxville somewhat unique in comparison with what we’ve seen alleged in places like Baylor and FSU is how institutionalized the process is made out to be.

The plaintiffs say that UT’s administrative hearing process, which is utilized by public universities across the state, is unfair because it provides students accused of sexual assault the right to attorneys and to confront their accusers through cross-examination and an evidentiary hearing in front of an administrative law judge. The administrative law judge who hears the case is appointed by [UT Chancellor) Cheek, the lawsuit says.

The details of that, as laid out in the complaint, are pretty amazing.

Tennessee is the only state in the country to use such an administrative hearing process, according to the lawsuit. The lawsuit claims that UT student-athletes frequently hired prominent Knoxville attorney Don Bosch to represent them in their administrative hearings.

“Athletes knew in advance that UT would: support them even after a complaint of sexual assault; arrange for top quality legal representation; and then direct them to the (Tennessee Uniform Administrative Procedures Act) hearing procedure that denies victims the right to a hearing and to the same equal procedural, hearing, and process rights as given to perpetrators of rape and sexual assault,” the plaintiffs said in their lawsuit.

That’s gotta be encouraging for a rape victim.  It certainly gives the administration a certain level of comfort in managing the process, and that’s what several of the allegations made in the suit point towards.

“UT administration (Chancellor Jimmy Cheek), athletic department (Vice Chancellor and Athletics Director) Dave Hart and football coach (Butch Jones) were personally aware (as ‘appropriate persons’ under Title IX) and had actual notice of previous sexual assaults and rapes by football players, yet acted with deliberate indifference to the serious risks of sexual assaults and failed to take corrective actions,” the plaintiffs said in their lawsuit…

The university “delayed the investigation process until the athlete perpetrators transferred to another school or graduated without  sanction or discipline,” the lawsuit said. Johnson was suspended at the end of his senior season but was able to participate in the UT commencement ceremony…

And this allegation is just nasty.

Two of the student-athletes named in the lawsuit — Johnson and Makanjuola — were publicly praised by UT coaches and administrators while they remained on their teams, graduated or transferred, even as those officials were aware that sexual assault allegations had been made against the players.

If true, either these people are too stupid or too lazy to worry about plausible deniability – or simply too arrogant.

There’s plenty more alleged in the complaint.  I don’t see how Tennessee has any choice but to fight this hard, given the way people all the way up the chain of command are named.  In any event, it sure looks like all the rumors about misbehaving Vol players being coddled by the administration going all the way back to the Fulmer era are coming home to roost.  Ugly.

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