9 Football Players Suing U of M for Racial, Gender Discrimination in Sexual Assault Investigation

A female student accused several Gopher football players of sexual assault in September, 2016. After a police investigation, the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office declined to press criminal charges. However, 10 players were initially suspended, leading to a highly-publicized bowl game boycott and eventually a coaching change.

RELATED: KSTP Exclusive: 80-Page Report Outlines U of M Investigation into Gophers Football Players

In the end, four players were expelled, two were suspended for a year and the rest were cleared of wrongdoing.

The University of Minnesota issued a statement on the matter Friday:

“We are aware of the lawsuit served on behalf of several current and former students,” the statement read.

“The University thoughtfully and thoroughly responds when faced with disturbing allegations, and provides extensive process to students accused of misconduct, including the opportunity to be heard during thorough investigations, panel hearings, and Provost review.  Further, aggrieved students have a right to review by the Minnesota Court of Appeals.  

“We will vigorously defend the University.”

RELATED: 5 Punishments Upheld, 4 Cleared, 1 Reduced in Gopher Football Player Sexual Misconduct Investigation

The lawsuit names the university’s Board of Regents, University President Eric Kaler and Tina Marisam, who heads the school’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, as defendants.

It seeks to require the university to reinstate four of the players as students in good standing, as well as requiring the school to expunge from the plaintiffs’ records “all references to any charges or findings of sexual misconduct, together with any references of any disciplinary action taken against any Plaintiff based on those charges or findings.”

It also seeks compensatory damages against the university and Kaler and Marisam acting in their individual capacities in an amount to be determined at trial, as well as attorney’s fees, disbursements and other court costs, all interest allowed by law and “such other and further relief as the Court deems just and proper.”

The lawsuit takes aim at the EOAA investigation into the allegations, alleging that unlike the investigation by law enforcement, “the EOAA’s investigation focused on finding the accused men guilty of sexual misconduct in order to validate the EOAA’s previously-expressed, biased belief that male football players had a propensity for sexually assaulting and harassing women.”

It also alleges that “Because of Plaintiffs’ gender, and to support an archaic assumption that male football players had a propensity for sexual misconduct against women, the EOAA investigators deprived Plaintiffs of the fair and impartial investigation to which they were entitled under the U.S. Constitution and University policies and procedures.”

It also claims “The University and administrators at its highest levels, including University President Eric Kaler, were complicit in victimizing Plaintiffs by utilizing EOAA’s overzealous and discriminatory investigation in order to deflect criticism the University was facing for having previously turned a blind eye to charges of sexual harassment by white men in the University Athletics Department.”

RELATED: Gophers to Play in Holiday Bowl Amid Investigation into Sexual Misconduct Accusations

It goes on to allege Kaler tried to convict the players in terms of public opinion, and that they were used as scapegoats for the school to atone “for past transgressions” allegedly involving athletic department administrators and coaches who were white.

It claims the university took a different approach when handling those allegations.

“As a result of Defendants’ conduct, Plaintiffs have had their reputations forever tarnished, have been deprived of their property and liberty without due process or equal protection, and have suffered severe emotional distress and financial damage,” the lawsuit states.

This is a breaking news story. KSTP is working to get more details on this story and will post updates as more information becomes available.

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