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, as reported by the Tennessean and 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, Riyahd Jones and a current football player named as a "John Doe."
The lawsuit also details an incident involving a female student who was sexually assaulted by a non-athlete, who was named a John Doe. The alleged assault took place after attending a football team party at Vol Hall, a campus dorm where she was served drinks by former UT player Traevon Paulk, the lawsuit says.
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.
The plaintiffs claim that UT violated the Title IX laws, which protect students from gender discrimination. UT created a hostile sexual environment for female students by showing “deliberate indifference and a clearly unreasonable response after a sexual assault that causes a student to endure additional harassment," according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit said blame for the hostile policies should be placed at the very top of the UT administration.
“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 plaintiffs claim 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 that hears the case is appointed by Chancellor Jimmy Cheek, the lawsuit says.
The university "delayed the investigation process until the athlete perpetrators transferred to another school or graduated without saction or discipline," the lawsuit said.
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