UT paying $2.48M to settle sexual harassment lawsuit

The University of Tennessee will pay $2.48 million to settle a federal Title IX lawsuit alleging the university maintains a “hostile sexual environment,” reports the News Sentinel.

Lawyers for UT and the eight unidentified female plaintiffs agreed to the settlement, announced Tuesday, two days before a response to the lawsuit from UT lawyers was due in U.S. District Court.

The settlement, to be paid half by the athletics department and half by the Knoxville campus, still needs to be approved by U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger of Nashville.

The lawsuit alleges UT violates Title IX in handling of sexual assault cases, especially accusations against student athletes. The February filing spurred a wave of media attention and brought recent sexual assault cases involving UT athletes as well as allegations against former UT and National Football League quarterback Peyton Manning back into the spotlight.

The lawsuit’s plaintiffs include the accusers in sexual assault cases against former basketball player Yemi Makanjuola and former football players A.J. Johnson, Michael Williams, Von Pearson, Alexis Johnson and Riyahd Jones. A trial had been set for May 2018.

The settlement amount, just under half of the maximum UT expected to pay had its defense failed, was discussed for months, according to UT.

The settlement required approval from a long list of UT and state officials and comes after Trauger denied motions by the university to dismiss the case, to move the trial from Nashville to Knoxville and to remove references to Manning.

The agreement means UT has paid roughly $4.01 million in settlements and attorney fees for athletics-related lawsuits in the past two years.

In announcing the agreement, UT officials and lawyers called settling the lawsuit “the right thing to do” to prevent an emotional toll on those involved, protect the reputation of UT and avoid added legal costs that the university estimated could reach $5.5 million.