Monday, January 12, 2015

Lawsuit filed against University of Oregon

The University of Oregon Ducks will take the field shortly in the first College Football Playoff National Championship. This event has likely overshadowed last week's news that a student has filed a Title IX lawsuit against the university and the basketball coach, Dana Altman. The woman alleges she was raped by three basketball players multiple times in one night in early March 2014.

All three were dismissed from the team and barred from the university for a period of 4-10 years. But the disciplinary action did not occur until May 2014--after post-season play had concluded. At the time, the dismissal of these players inspired protest on behalf of the student-athletes citing sex discrimination. But the only Title IX complaint filed with OCR was about the university's failure to respond to the report and to the lack of notification to the campus community about an accused sexual perpetrator on campus.

Yes, one of the accused Brandon Austin, was a transfer from Providence College where he never played after being dismissed from the team as a first year after accusations of his participation in a gang rape there. We wrote about this last summer here and here. Oregon continues to maintain that it did not know why Austin transferred from PC. I continue to maintain that this seems highly implausible. Whether there is evidence to prove this will be revealed during a trial--if it gets to a trial.

The importance of this aspect of the lawsuit though should not be underplayed. Austin is now at a junior college in Florida. Administrators there know of his past. So the question that may be addressed in this lawsuit is: what does a university have to know? when? and how must they handle similar situations? Will a court find that Oregon--if they knew of Austin's prior indiscretions--exhibited deliberate indifference that lead to the rape of the plaintiff?

It is well past the time that some of these questions be answered. Misbehaving student-athletes have been passed around from school to school for far too long. Someone has to be held responsible when they re-offend.

Regarding the timeliness of the school's disciplinary action, to a cynical outsider this might look like the university was trying to keep the student-athletes in good standing until the end of the semester thus not damaging the overall academic standing of the team in terms of progress towards graduation and overall GPA--markers the NCAA uses to determine post-season eligibility.

This case has not received nearly the amount of attention of FSU, perhaps because Oregon did some things right (despite the increase in awareness the bar remains very low). Or maybe the lack of coverage is because this is the basketball team and not the football team. Some of lawyers on the FSU case are also handling this one, and I expect as it goes forward and all the pieces are revealed, it will get more attention.