University of Minnesota lawyers are making good on their promise to “vigorously defend” a federal civil rights lawsuit filed against the school by nine Gophers football players.
The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for willful and malicious discrimination of the players after a woman alleged she was the victim of a gang rape on Sept. 2, 2016.
But in a 44-page motion to dismiss the suit, the U argues that the plaintiffs failed to use all other methods of appeal and suffered no deprivation of rights.
The U says it “did indeed ‘discriminate’ but not on the grounds of gender or race,” as the players claim.
“Instead, the process discriminated among the student-athletes, not against them, by carefully determining who had violated the student conduct code and who had not,” according to the motion.
The victim alleged that as many as a dozen football players at an off-campus party repeatedly raped her or watched and cheered as others did. No criminal charges have been filed.
After its own investigation, the U found 10 Gophers football players responsible for sexual misconduct.
The players appealed that finding to the Student Sexual Misconduct Subcommittee (SSMS), where they received a two-day hearing and were allowed to bring counsel, present evidence and confront their accuser, the motion said.
The six men found culpable had the right to appeal to the provost; three did. The provost upheld the findings for two of them and dismissed the third. The students then had the right to ask the state Court of Appeals to hear their case, but they didn’t. In all, five students were expelled or suspended for violating the conduct code.
In their lawsuit, nine of the men claimed they had suffered “severe emotional distress and financial damage” as a result of “being falsely cast as sex offenders.”
The lawsuit refers to the men only as “John Does,” but the accused players have been identified in news reports.
The five players who were investigated but not found responsible weren’t deprived of their college educations, scholarships or ability to participate in college sports, the motion notes. Only four of the nine players in the lawsuit were found responsible.
“Being charged with misconduct and investigated for it is not a violation of due process; to the contrary, the investigation is part of the process due following a charge,” the motion said.
The players also claim race played a role and that they were scapegoats used to deflect criticism the U was facing for “having previously turned a blind eye to charges of sexual harassment by white males in the University Athletics Department.”
The U’s motion, filed Friday, said the five students found responsible for misconduct “were sanctioned for one reason and one reason only: their conduct on the morning of Sept. 2, 2016. It had nothing to do with their gender. It had nothing to do with their race.”
The players have claimed the woman initiated the sexual encounters involving five Gophers players and an underage recruit. That differs drastically from the graphic investigative report that was leaked to the media two years ago. In excruciating detail, the report describes numerous men taking turns assaulting the woman as others cheered and watched.
The lawyer for the players didn’t return a phone call Monday.