University of Tennessee Settles Sexual Assault Lawsuit for $2.5 Million
A Title IX lawsuit against the University of Tennessee-Knoxville has been settled for $2.48 million with a group of eight women who accused the school of fostering a “hostile sexual environment,” listing incidents dating back to 1995, mostly involving allegations against male student athletes.
The announcement of the settlement comes just two days before the university has to formally respond to the case in the U.S. District Court. However, though UT is paying out nearly $2.5 million, it is not admitting guilt or negligence.
The lawsuit was first filed in February, when six women filed a civil suit claiming that athletes who were found guilty of assault went unpunished. They alleged that perpetrators and their teammates discouraged women from reporting rape charges, and that an athlete who tried to help a woman who had been assaulted was attacked by a fellow athlete. The women are dismissing the lawsuit against UT, according to David Randolph Smith, the Nashville attorney who represents the eight women.
“My clients and I are dismissing the lawsuit with prejudice and signed the settlement agreement,” Smith said in a statement. He added:
We are satisfied that, while universities everywhere struggle with these issues, the University of Tennessee has made significant progress in the way they educate and respond to sexual assault cases. My clients and I are also convinced that the University’s leadership is truly committed to continue its exemplary efforts to create a model as it relates to sexual misconduct.
The lawsuit claimed UT’s administrative hearing process was one-sided and denied victims the “rights to a hearing and to the same equal procedural, hearing, and process rights as given to perpetrators of rape and sexual assault.” It also accused the university of interfering with investigations and providing lawyers for students accused of misconduct. The $2.48 million payout from UT to the eight women will be split between UT’s athletic department and central administration. The money will not come from taxpayer dollars, student fees or donor funds, according to the school’s lawyers.
Joe DiPietro, UT System President, announced that in the next few weeks he will appoint an independent commission to review the current programs in place that combat sexual assault, and assess what areas need to be strengthened.
“I continue to say that one incident of sexual misconduct is one too many,” DiPietro said. “But unfortunately, on a college campus, these incidents will happen. When they do, I want the confidence of knowing that we did everything within our power to appropriately deal with the situation, and we provided the necessary support for all involved. There are no excuses for anything less.”
UT Chancellor Jimmy Cheek is also spearheading his own initiatives—he will hire six more people for Title IX compliance positions.