The University of Tennessee has reached a $2.48 million settlement with eight women who accused the school of mishandling sexual assault allegations against male student athletes. The federal lawsuit alleged the university violated Title IX regulations and fostered a "hostile sexual environment," listing incidents beginning in 1995.
The civil suit, originally brought by women identified as Jane Does 1 through 6, claimed that athletes who were found responsible for assaults by the university went unpunished, that perpetrators and their teammates actively discouraged women from bringing rape charges, and that an athlete who tried to help a woman who had been assaulted was physically attacked by a fellow athlete.
WPLN's Natasha Senjanovic reports:
"The settlement was announced just two days before UT had to formally respond to the sweeping sexual assault lawsuit. The school says the nearly $2.5 million payment is not, however, an admission of guilt or negligence on its part. The lawsuit included events dating back more than two decades, including a 1996 complaint filed against Peyton Manning when he played for UT."
According to attorney David Randolph Smith who represented the women, "We are satisfied that, while universities everywhere struggle with these issues, the University of Tennessee has made significant progress in the way they educate and respond to sexual assault cases."
Payment of the settlement will be split between the university's athletic department and the school's central administration. According to UT's lawyers, no taxpayer dollars, student fees or donor funds will be used.
The lawsuit is settled amid a new sense of urgency in combating campus rape. Days ago President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden announced they will not make appearances at colleges whose leaders are not serious about punishing sexual assault.