Lawsuit: University of Tennessee Had “Deliberate Indifference” Toward Sexual Assaults By Athletes

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Six unnamed women sued the University of Tennessee in federal court Tuesday, alleging numerous Title IX violations by the school, an adjudication process heinously biased against victims, and a pattern of sexual assault by male athletes.

The lawsuit outlines serious deficiencies and outright hostility towards female students in the university’s policies, and accuses former football players A.J. Johnson, Riyahd Jones, and Michael Williams; former basketball player Yemi Makanjuola; a current football player named John Doe; and a current non-athlete student named John Doe; of sexual assault. It also says that former player Drae Bowles was twice jumped by his teammates for having the audacity to drive a woman who accused Johnson and Williams of rape to the hospital.

Johnson and Williams will be tried for rape this summer.

But bigger than the individual accusations of sexual assault, the suit outlines a toxic culture—fostered by the university and its leaders—that enables sexual assault and allows its perpetrators go unpunished. Here is a representative passage from the lawsuit:

UT intentionally acted by an official policy of deliberate indifference to known sexual assaults so as to create a hostile sexual environment. UT had actual notice (and itself created) a long-standing, severely hostile sexual environment of rape by male athletes (particularly football players) that was condoned and completely unaddressed by UT officials, including Chancellor Jimmy Cheek (“Cheek”), Athletic Department Director and Vice-Chancellor Dave Hart (“Hart”), and head football coach Butch Jones (“Jones”).


The lawsuit also says that the Tennessee Uniform Administrative Procedure Act—which governs hearings into accusations of sexual assault—is one-sided against victims, and “denies victims the rights to a hearing and to the same equal procedural, hearing, and process rights as given to perpetrators of rape and sexual assault.” The suit says Chancellor Jimmy Cheek appoints hearing officers favorable to athletes, and then acts as the final judge of appeals from the TUAPA procedure.

And even before the hearing, the school dedicates an enormous amount of time and money to provide every resource possible to athletes accused of sexual assault, according to the suit. This is a long passage, but it’s worth quoting in full:

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 TUAPA process, which was and continues to be a one-sided and unfair system of adjudication. Varsity athletes knew that they (not victims) would be fully supported by the UT athletic department and administration’s process and that the perpetrators and athletic department could deter and discourage victims from pursuing complaints by: having their lawyers depose female victims; subjecting victims to extensive discovery; cross-examining sexual assault victims in a full blown hearing before an administrative law judge(appointed by Cheek); and delaying the investigation process until the athlete perpetrators transferred to another school or graduated without sanction or discipline. This is precisely what happened in the cases of Does I, II, IV, and VI and is the very reason that UT Vice-Chancellor Tim Rogers resigned from UT in March 2013 in protest over the violation of Title IX and the UT administration’s and athletic department’s deliberate indifference to the clear and present danger of sexual assaults by UT athletes.


The lawsuit seeks a radical overhaul of Tennessee’s procedures to bring it into compliance with Title IX, an end to the TUAPA hearing process, reimbursement of tuition for the plaintiffs, and damages for emotional suffering. The University of Tennessee is also one of the numerous higher education institutions with an open Title IX sexual violence investigation by the Department of Education.

The Tennessean—which has extensively covered the type of problems outlined in the lawsuit for years—has a long write-up of the suit, and the Knoxville News Sentinel has a summary as well. You can read the full lawsuit below.


[The Tennessean/Knoxville News Sentinel]

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