Univ. of Tennessee Settles $2.5M Title IX Lawsuit

The lawsuit alleged unfairness in the school’s disciplinary hearings involving student athletes.

The University of Tennessee-Knoxville settled a large Title IX lawsuit involving eight students who alleged they were sexually assaulted by student athletes.

The university admits no guilt, negligence or that laws were broken as part of the $2.48 million settlement, and the plaintiffs agreed to withdraw complaints they filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, reports The Tennessean.

“Now, the university can continue its aggressive efforts to deal with Title IX issues, and the plaintiffs can go about their lives without the public agony of a protracted litigation and trial,” Aubrey Harwell, a lawyer for the university, said after the announcement July 5.

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The students who brought the lawsuit claimed the school favored student athletes in their disciplinary hearings by, among other things, providing attorneys for the defendants. It also claimed the university interfered with sexual assault investigations and denied victims the right to a hearing.

The cases revolve around accusations of sexual assault against six former athletes. Five of those athletes were found by the university to have committed sexual assaults, but were allowed to stay on campus and graduate as the investigation continued, in some cases, for years. Two of those athletes, football players A.J. Johnson and Mike Williams, face criminal charges and are awaiting trial.

In the months leading up to the settlement, University Chancellor Jimmy G. Cheek has undertaken several initiatives aimed at improving the university system’s response to complaints of sexual assault, including creating more Title IX compliance positions and appointing a special independent commission to review the sexual assault responses of schools.

The cost of the settlement will be split equally between the university’s central administration and the athletics department. The university’s football program alone is worth an estimated $126 million.

Although the plaintiffs withdrew their Title IX complaint, a spokesman with the Department of Education said the OCR’s ongoing investigation may continue.

Read Next: Report: Complaints to OCR Have Doubled Since 2005

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