Sex assault suit filed against University of Tennessee

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Six women filed a federal lawsuit against the University of Tennessee, claiming school leaders were indifferent about about reported rapes and sexual assaults involving UT football and basketball players.

The women said this makes for a "hostile environment" on UT's campus, and accuse UT staff of violating Title IX and discriminating against women, especially in rape or sexual assault cases involving student athletes.

The lawsuit even claims UT football players assaulted another, Drea Bowles, for helping alleged rape victims.

These women, who are each named as "Jane Doe" in the suit, are going after both the University and the Office of Student Conduct and Community Affairs.

The lawsuit sites more than a dozen incidents involving football players in situations with underage drinking, assault and sexual harassment, and that UT didn't handle it correctly.

The 64 page suit alleges there's a culture at UT that favors male "major sports," and that Chancellor Jimmy Cheek, Athletic Director Dave Hart and Head Football Coach Butch Jones were aware of sexual assaults and rapes committed by players, but did not take corrective actions.

The suit also states the university's athletic department has a history of interfering with the disciplinary process, concealing charges and investigations involving male athletes. It claims the department even arranges specialized defense council for the athletes facing criminal and sexual assault charges.

UT leaders supported, maintained and controlled environments for basketball and football players that encouraged underage drinking, drug use and rape, according to the lawsuit. The women victims were unlawfully discriminated, it added.

The lawsuit mentions the university misuses the Tennessee Uniform Administrative Procedures Act (TUAPA). It says university leaders used the TUAPA procedure to allow only accused sexual assault perpetrators the right of confrontation, cross-examination and a right to evidentiary administrative hearing. The documents allege rape victims are denied the same rights.

It said Cheek appoints judges and hearing officers who are favorable to athletes and he decides any appeals from TUAPA hearings.

The lawsuit said athletes knew they would have support if they committed sexual assault. This support came in the form of top legal representation and the TUAPA process. It also alleges the UT Athletic Department made it difficult for victims to pursue complaints by having their lawyers depose female victims, subject the victims to extensive investigations, cross-examine the victims in a hearing before a judge, and delay the process until the athletes transferred to another school or graduated without discipline.

The document lists various sexual assault accusations in UT history, starting with an alleged incident in 1996 involving Peyton Manning and going up through an alleged assault by Treyvon Paulk in September 2015.

The six women filing the lawsuit accuse the following athletes of sexual assault: former basketball player Yemi Mankanjuola, former football players A.J. Johnson, Michael Williams, Riyah Jones and a current, unnamed football player.

The group is asking, in part, for an overall change in UT's policies. That includes a yearly review of the athletic departments sexual harassment and recruiting policies.

UT responded by saying that the university "acted lawfully and in good faith, and we expect a court to agree. Any assertion that we do not take sexual assault seriously enough is simply not true." You can read the full statement by clicking on the document link attached to this story.