Gopher football players’ lawsuit heard in District Court

The nine football players’ lawsuit against the University for discrimination in a sexual assault investigation was heard in District Court Friday morning.

The Gophers won 38-31 with a late touchdown by wide receiver Rashod Bateman on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018 at TCF Bank Stadium.

Tony Saunders

The Gophers won 38-31 with a late touchdown by wide receiver Rashod Bateman on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018 at TCF Bank Stadium.

Mohamed Ibrahim

Representatives for nine Gopher football players allegedly involved in a 2016 sexual assault case appeared in court Friday to present a discrimination case against the University of Minnesota.

Lawyers for both the players and the University appeared in U.S. District Court Friday morning after the University filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit of nine former and current football players. The players, all of whom are black, are suing the University for discrimination, claiming they were unfairly targeted in the 2016 investigation into the alleged sexual assault of a female student, according to federal court documents.

The alleged sexual assault of the unnamed victim took place in fall 2016 and resulted in the suspension of ten Gopher football players. Although no criminal charges were filed, four players were ultimately disciplined after a hearing by the University’s Student Sexual Misconduct Subcommittee and an appeal to the Provost. 

The lawsuit claims the investigation by University’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action was colored by bias against the players’ race and gender. The players believe the investigation conclusion was predetermined, ignoring their right to due process, the documents state.

“Because of Plaintiffs’ gender, and to support an archaic assumption that male football players had a propensity for sexual misconduct against women, the EOAA investigators deprived Plaintiffs of the fair and impartial investigation to which they were entitled under the U.S. Constitution and University policies and procedures,” the civil complaint said.

The complaint states the University did not handle past sexual assault and harassment allegations against white male athletic officials with the same bias.

The University paid nearly $300,000 in settlements in the case of former Athletics Director Norwood Teague, who resigned in Aug. 2015.

The nine players’ attorney David Madgett said in court Friday that University President Eric Kaler and EOAA Director Tina Marisam used the situation to demonstrate efforts to discipline such behavior in the athletic department, according to a report by the Pioneer Press. Madgett referred to a 2015 email by then-EEOA Director Kim Hewitt about a “potential pattern” of sexual misconduct among football players. He said players were targeted in the University’s effort to improve that image, according to the report. 

“The University and administrators at its highest levels, including University President Eric Kaler, were complicit in victimizing Plaintiffs by utilizing the EOAA’s overzealous and discriminatory investigation in order to deflect criticism the University was facing for having previously turned a blind eye to charges of sexual harassment by white men in the University Athletics Department,” the lawsuit reads.

According the University’s Associate General Counsel Carrie Ryan Gallia, the six players who were not found responsible for sexual misconduct during the school’s investigation fail to demonstrate discrimination in the process. Gallia said the expelled players’ decision not to appeal to the state court system also invalidates the lawsuit’s claims of due process violations, according to the Pioneer Press report. 

The players are seeking a lift on the four players’ expulsions with expunged records and compensatory damages. After hearing the oral arguments, the judge did not determine when he would rule on the motion.