MINNEAPOLIS — A federal judge Tuesday, June 25 dismissed all claims in a lawsuit accusing the University of Minnesota of discriminating against 10 football players who were investigated in a 2016 sexual assault.
The players, all African-American, accused President Eric Kaler and Title IX Coordinator Tina Marisam of discriminating against them on the basis of race and sex.
They argued white athletics department employees accused of sexual misconduct received lighter punishments.
And they said university leaders were eager to punish the players to make a statement about the U’s intolerance for sexual misconduct.
But U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank granted the university’s motion for summary judgment Tuesday, rejecting the players’ long list of legal arguments.
“The University of Minnesota welcomes the decision by U.S. District Judge Frank, which confirms our belief that the claims brought in this case were without merit,” the university said in a written statement.
The players are likely to appeal the ruling.
“That’s why appeals courts exist, and we’ll see what the guys want to do,” said David Madgett, the players’ attorney. “We’re confident in the long run that these kangaroo courts aren’t going to stand the test of time.”
U.S. colleges since 1980 have had a legal responsibility to investigate sexual violence against female students under federal Title IX law.
With its so-called “Dear Colleague” letter in 2011, the Obama administration directed colleges to lower the bar for holding accused students accountable. The Trump administration rescinded that guidance in 2017, urging colleges to add more protections for the accused.
Meanwhile, a wave of lawsuits brought by accused students in Minnesota and across the country have challenged the legality of schools’ disciplinary processes. They’ve typically argued that colleges, by bowing to pressure from the Obama administration, have discriminated against male students accused of sexual violence.
Like most judges, Frank sided with the college.
“The Court agrees with the majority of federal courts and finds that a general reference to federal pressure (i.e., the ‘Dear Colleague’ letter) is insufficient to demonstrate gender bias,” Frank wrote.
Madgett said that from the start, the football players’ case was bound for the Court of Appeals, whatever the outcome in the District Court.
“This is a developing area of law. It’s disappointing that the law doesn’t have more protections at this point,” he said.
Several football players were suspended from the team after a white female student reported 10 to 20 team members gang-raped her in September 2016.
Three months later, Marisam concluded her investigation, which led to the recommendation that five players be expelled, four suspended for one year and a fifth be placed on probation; one player was cleared.
The players organized a short-lived boycott that ended soon after the U’s investigative findings were leaked to a reporter. The team went on the win the postseason Holiday Bowl.
After contested student conduct hearings, five players were cleared of wrongdoing. A sixth had his suspension overturned on appeal to the provost. Only four were expelled.
Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman declined to prosecute any player, saying the U’s investigation revealed “deplorable behavior” but that he’d be unable to prove a crime had taken place.
Nine of the players investigated joined together to sue the U last year, and a 10th later joined them.
Two of the players involved in the investigation still play for the Gophers: starting safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. and wildcat quarterback and receiver Seth Green, both of whom were cleared by the U.