Nine current and former University of Minnesota football players sued the school for gender and racial discrimination Friday, accusing the school of using them as “scapegoats” during an investigation into an alleged gang rape in 2016.
Five players had consensual sex with the woman, according to the lawsuit. The other four players were not initially accused by the woman, but rather later named as accomplices or witnesses in the course of an investigation conducted by the school’s Office of Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action. Local police declined to press charges, saying that there wasn’t enough evidence to prove guilt beyond a reasonable doubt.
The University of Minnesota accused all the players of sexual misconduct, and ultimately suspended or expelled five for violating the student code of conduct. But the players, the lawsuit alleged, were used “as scapegoats to appease federal authorities and deflect public scrutiny over the University’s and Eric Kaler’s historic lack of vigilance against sexual harassment by white males in the University Athletics Department.”
In November, the university’s athletics director, Norwood Teague, resigned after several school employees said Teague sexually harassed them.
The lawsuit is seeking unnamed monetary damages and the restoration of the football players’ school records.
The players’ version of the alleged assault, as detailed in the lawsuit, differs significantly from the victim’s, who said in a police report that at least a dozen people were involved in the rape. “I was shoving people off me,” the victim told police. “They kept ignoring my pleas for help.”
The University of Minnesota didn’t immediately respond to a VICE News request for comment. But in a statement to the Wall Street Journal, school spokesperson Chuck Tombarge said that the university will defend itself and its process for investigating misconduct.
“The University thoughtfully and thoroughly responds when faced with disturbing allegations, and provides extensive process to students accused of misconduct,” Tombarge said.