The University of Tennessee has been fighting against a federal lawsuit filed by eight women against the school and the athletics department in February, alleging serious deficiencies in how the school dealt with sexual assault, and that UT had created a culture where athletes easily committed sexual assault. Tennessee tried to have case dismissed on procedural grounds or moved from Nashville to Knoxville, but were unsuccessful. Today the two sides reached a settlement agreement that will see Tennessee will pay $2.48 million to the plaintiffs in exchange for dropping the suit.
The lawsuit accused six men, five of them UT athletes, of sexual assault, and claimed among other things that a former football player who drove one of the women to the hospital got jumped by two teammates for it. Moreover, the lawsuit sought to dismantle the alleged “official policy of deliberate indifference” that the school (and athletic department in particular) had towards sexual assault accusations against athletes. Here’s what we wrote on the suit in February when it was filed:
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.
In addition to the financial settlement—which will also pay the fees for the plaintiffs’ attorneys—the school reportedly agreed to allow an independent commission to review their handling of sexual assault cases and recommend changes. Another term of the settlement stipulates that UT can no longer funnel athletes accused of crimes to a group of handpicked lawyers, and instead will refer them to the local bar association.
The settlement means that Tennessee football coach Butch Jones won’t be deposed or have to testify, and the precise role Jones and other athletic department honchos had in the alleged repression of sexual assaults won’t become clear. But if the independent commission is truly independent and the school respects its recommendations, the culture of “deliberate indifference” that has thrived in Knoxville might finally end.