By Steve Megaree, Associated Press
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A lawsuit filed by a group of women alleges that the University of Tennessee has violated Title IX regulations and created a “hostile sexual environment” through a policy of indifference toward assaults by student-athletes.
The federal suit filed Tuesday in Nashville states Tennessee’s policies made students more vulnerable to sexual assault and says that the school had a “clearly unreasonable response” after incidents that caused the women making complaints to endure additional harassment. The suit also states the university interfered with the disciplinary process to favor male athletes.
There have been several sexual assault complaints made against Tennessee student-athletes over the last four years, including former football players A.J. Johnson and Michael Williams. They were indicted on aggravated rape charges in February 2015 and have separate trial dates this summer.
The suit was filed by David Randolph Smith, a lawyer representing six unidentified plaintiffs, against the University of Tennessee and the director of the office of student conduct and community standards. No individual were named as defendants in the complaint.
The suit also states that Tim Rogers, a former vice chancellor for student life, stepped down in 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.”
Bill Ramsey, a lawyer representing the school, said in a statement the university “acted lawfully and in good faith” in the situations outlined in the complaint. Ramsey said the school “has devoted significant time and energy to provide a safe environment for our students, to educate and raise awareness about sexual assault and to encourage students to come forward and report sexual assault.”
The Tennessean first reported the lawsuit.
This suit comes two weeks after Florida State settled a Title IX lawsuit with a former student Erica Kinsman, who said the school failed to adequately investigate allegations that she was raped by former Seminoles quarterback Jameis Winston. The Heisman winner and No. 1 overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft has said the allegations are false and that he and Kinsman had consensual sex. No charges were ever filed against Winston as prosecutors said there wasn’t enough evidence to win a conviction and that there were gaps in Kinsman’s story.
Title IX is a federal statute that bans discrimination at schools that receive federal funding. The U.S. Department of Education in 2011 warned schools of their legal responsibilities to immediately investigate allegations of sexual assault, even if the criminal investigation has not concluded.