MINNEAPOLIS (KMSP) - Nine Gophers football players are now suing the University of Minnesota for racial and gender discrimination after an investigation into alleged sexual misconduct by the group in 2016, saying the school used the situation to create scapegoats in order to appease the public after several high-profile sexual misconduct scandals involving employees in the athletics department.
According to a federal lawsuit filed Friday in federal court, the plaintiffs--all black men referred to simply as "John Does"--claim the university "willfully and maliciously" used its position to push a biased narrative and deprive the group of their rights to due process and equal protection under the law. The nine players are seeking an unspecified amount and want their records expunged.
The university responded to the suit in a statement, saying it would "vigorously defend" the actions of investigators and school officials as they relate to the case.
The incident in question concerns an alleged gang rape of a female student in 2016. At least 10 Gopher football players were investigated by police for their reported roles in the incident, but no criminal charges were filed.
Because the woman also reported her story to the university's Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action, the university also conducted its own investigation and suspended the players from team activities. Five of the players were ultimately suspended or expelled from the school and five others were cleared after appealing their cases.
In the lawsuit, all but one of those players allege the investigation conducted by the EOAA began with an "archaic assumption that male football players had a propensity for sexual misconduct against women" and from there the office ignored evidence, failed to interview witnesses and otherwise worked to support an existing narrative.
The player's version of events, which largely differs from the timeline given to investigators by the woman, asserts that she engaged in consensual sex with five members of the football team and a potential football recruit.
An outside review of the sexual assault report and resulting university procedures by a local law firm last summer found the investigation followed all applicable laws and policies governing the Student Conduct Code, writing in its statement that "weak leadership by the football team coaching staff" later led to a boycott by the entire football team in support of the players implicated in the investigation.
FULL UNIVERSITY STATEMENT:
"We are aware of the lawsuit served on behalf of several current and former students.
"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."