University of Tennessee Sued for Alleged Sexual Assaults Involving Athletes

Alec Nathan@@AlecBNathanFeatured Columnist

KNOXVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 11:  A.J. Johnson #45 of the Tennessee Volunteers anticipates a play during a game against the Chattanooga Mocs at Neyland Stadium on October 11, 2014 in Knoxville, Tennessee. Tennessee won the game 45-10.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
Stacy Revere/Getty Images

The University of Tennessee is being sued by six female plaintiffs identified as "Jane Does" who alleged the school has "created a student culture that enables sexual assaults by student-athletes, especially football players, and then uses an unusual, legalistic adjudication process that is biased against victims who step forward," according to the Tennessean's Anita Wadhwani and Nate Rau on Feb. 9. 

The federal lawsuit, which alleges the school breached Title IX laws designed to protect students from gender discrimination, was filed Tuesday and accuses four former Tennessee athletes and one current football player listed as "John Doe" of sexual assault.

According to Wadhwani and Rau, the former athletes were identified as basketball player Yemi Makanjuola and football players A.J. Johnson, Michael Williams and Riyahd Jones. Makanjuola was accused of sexual assault in February 2013, according to a previous report from Wadhwani, and he has since transferred to the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. 

Hailey Holloway of 6News added on Feb. 23 that two more athletes are being added to the lawsuit.

Jones, Johnson and Williams, meanwhile, are awaiting trial after they were accused of rape in cases detailed by the Tennessean.

The lawsuit reportedly states that administration at the University of Tennessee displayed "deliberate indifference and a clearly unreasonable response after a sexual assault that causes a student to endure additional harassment," per Wadhwani and Rau.    

The lawsuit alleges key members of the school's administration, including head football coach Butch Jones, vice chancellor and athletics director Dave Hart and school chancellor Jimmy Cheek, "acted with deliberate indifference to the serious risks of sexual assaults and failed to take corrective actions." 

The University of Tennessee released a statement on Feb. 9 regarding the allegations through legal counsel Bill Ramsey, according to Wadhwani and Rau: 

Like the many other college campuses facing the challenges of sexual assault, the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, 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. When the University receives a report of sexual assault, we offer care and support to the person who came forward and work to investigate and resolve the matter in a timely, thorough, and equitable manner. When warranted, the University takes disciplinary action but will not do so in a manner that violates state law or the constitutional due process rights of our students.

In the situations identified in the lawsuit filed today; the University acted lawfully and in good faith, and we expect a court to agree. Any assertion that we do not take sexual assault seriously enough is simply not true. To claim that we have allowed a culture to exist contrary to our institutional commitment to providing a safe environment for our students or that we do not support those who report sexual assault is just false. The University will provide a detailed response to the lawsuit and looks forward to doing so at the appropriate time, and in the proper manner.

The report also states that the six plaintiffs took issue with the school's administrative hearing procedures.

Not only does the lawsuit allege the university "delayed the investigation process until the athlete perpetrators transferred to another school or graduated without sanction or discipline," according to the Tennessean, but there are references to a corrupt hearing process that allowed accused athletes access to attorneys, who were then able to pressure accusers during hearings. 

The plaintiffs are reportedly seeking damages that include the reimbursement of full tuition as well as damages stemming from the university's alleged discrimination to equal educational benefits. 


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