A federal judge has dismissed the gender discrimination lawsuit against the University of Minnesota filed by nine former Gophers football players accused of sexual assault in 2016.
U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank dismissed the lawsuit late last week, saying the former players had failed to "produce sufficient evidence of sex discrimination."
The lawsuit filed in 2018 by players identified as John Does sought unspecified damages for willful and malicious discrimination. The men claimed they suffered severe emotional distress and financial damage as a result of being falsely cast as sex offenders.
In dismissing the case, Frank said the players failed to provide evidence for any of their claims, including allegations of bias by university investigators or pressure from Athletic Director Mark Coyle and former President Eric Kaler.
University of Minnesota spokesman Jake Ricker said in a statement that the U appreciates the decision affirming its actions. "The important work of preventing sexual misconduct is ongoing," Ricker said. "We will continue to focus on sexual misconduct awareness, prevention and response through the president's Initiative to Prevent Sexual Misconduct and other programs for our students, faculty, and staff."
The allegations and the graphic investigative report on the incident rocked the football program with players threatening to boycott the team's trip to the Holiday Bowl in protest. But after they read the graphic 80-page report, the players reversed their stance and agreed to play the game.
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. After its own investigation, the U found 10 Gophers football players responsible for sexual misconduct.
Five students were eventually expelled or suspended for violating the student conduct code, while the others were cleared on appeal. The players have claimed the woman initiated the sexual encounters involving the players and an underage recruit.
Then-Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman reviewed the case at the time but did not charge anyone.
The lawsuit has a long procedural history. Frank initially dismissed the lawsuit in 2019. Two years later, the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated part of it and returned the case to Frank who has now dismissed it a second time.
The players, all of whom are Black, also claimed racial discrimination, but that claim was among those that had already been dismissed.
The only remaining claim alleged Title IX gender discrimination. As evidence, the former players cited the fact that criminal charges weren't filed against them. But Frank's ruling said that a lack of criminal prosecution "is certainly not evidence of a judicial adjudication or that plaintiffs 'were proven innocent.'"
The men also claimed that the U's Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action investigator used "manipulative tactics" with them in interviews and that the alleged victim helped draft the report. The players also alleged that "prior failed investigations motivated" the U to punish them.
Frank, however, said all the claims lacked evidence or were "unsupported by the record" and "no reasonable jury could find that the University disciplined plaintiffs on the basis of sex."
David Madgett, an attorney for the players, said in 2021 the accusations "destroyed many of these kids' lives."
He did not respond to a request for comment Monday.