NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Seven women have filed a federal class action lawsuit against Louisiana State University, its governing board and several former and current LSU officials, alleging years of “neglect and dysfunction” in its responses to allegations of sexual harassment, domestic violence and assault involving student athletes.
The suit filed Monday in Baton Rouge alleges a racketeering scheme by LSU, its athletic department and the nonprofit fundraising Tiger Athletic Foundation - also a defendant in the lawsuit - to insulate players and coaches from sexual misconduct allegations. Players and coaches were shielded so as not to hinder the financial success of athletic programs, the lawsuit says. The result, the lawsuit claims, meant women were discouraged or blocked from taking claims of harassment or assault to the university office responsible for handling such complaints in accordance with federal Title IX sexual discrimination laws.
“As a practical matter, Title IX complaints against student-athletes are purposefully buried or diverted so as to ensure that those complaints were never properly investigated or addressed and the student-athletes are not negatively impacted or prevented from concentrating on their athletics,” the suit claims.
Plaintiffs include women who have testified in public hearings during the growing scandal over the university’s handling of harassment and assault complaints. Their lawsuit contains a litany of allegations of abuse and resulting suffering.
For example, one of the women alleges she was raped by a football player and that the trauma exacerbated a substance abuse problem. A rehabilitation center official and the woman’s father both reported the rape to LSU officials, the lawsuit says, but she was never contacted by the LSU Title IX office.
While there are seven plaintiffs, the suit said it was seeking court-approved class-action status on behalf of an unspecified number of women suffering in a variety of ways as a result of assault or harassment, including loss of educational opportunities and scholarships and physical and mental health repercussions.
It’s the latest development in a scandal that has reverberated well beyond the LSU campus in Baton Rouge. Former LSU president F. King Alexander, a defendant in the lawsuit, stepped down as president of Oregon State University amid criticism of LSU’s handling of Title IX complaints during his time in Baton Rouge. Former LSU football coach Les Miles was pushed out of his job as head coach at Kansas. He is a defendant in a lawsuit filed earlier this year by an associate LSU athletic director who alleges she was a victim of retaliation for reporting racist remarks and inappropriate sexual behavior by Miles, allegations he denied. The associate athletic director, meanwhile, has been named as a defendant in Monday’s lawsuit.
The lawsuit includes findings in a report by the law firm Husch Blackwell, which was hired by LSU to review the university’s handling of Title IX complaints following reporting by USA Today. The newspaper had scrutinized LSU’s handling of sexual assault allegations involving two former LSU football players.
“We have only just been made aware of the lawsuit through media stories, and therefore can’t comment on something we have yet to review,” said Jim Sabourin, LSU’s vice president of communications and university relations, in an emailed statement. “Instead, we are focused on taking actions to ensure that we create a campus that is safe, just and worthy of the trust that has been placed in us.”
Tiger Athletic Foundation did not immediately respond to a telephone message seeking comment.
Contact information for Alexander was not available but he has said, in a statement in March, that he was “deeply saddened” by the experiences of the Husch Blackwell report’s sexual misconduct accusers. But he took issue with conclusions that LSU’s handling of Title IX and sexual misconduct cases were unclear and inconsistently managed.
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