A proposed class action lawsuit alleges Louisiana State University has systemically failed to address known issues in its response to reports of sexual misconduct in favor of “promoting and glorifying” college football athletes and coaches.
The case scathes that LSU’sTitle IXprogram has existed “in a state of complete neglect and dysfunction” and is to blame for a campus culture in which the trauma and sexual misconduct inflicted upon women and LGBTQ+-identifying individuals have been ignored and even “tacitly allowed.” According to the lawsuit, “sports and money” have long been prioritized over academics and LSU students’ well-being:
“LSU’s failure to comply with even the most basic of Title IX obligations has been, in the words of Louisiana Senator Paula Davis, ‘a major screw-up,’ and in the words of Interim President Tom Galligan, ‘We failed those who it was our first duty to protect[,]’ ‘it was an example of institutional betrayal[,]’ and ‘I am ashamed.’”
The seven plaintiffs who filed the 118-page lawsuit are current or former Louisiana State University students who attended the school’s Baton Rouge campus between 2013 and 2021 and were victims of sex-based discrimination, including rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, or stalking, at the hands of male LSU students. According to the complaint, most of the plaintiffs did not report their experiences to the school’s Title IX office because they were either discouraged or prevented from doing so by LSU employees. Those who did file reports were ignored, or their reports were not adequately investigated or addressed, the suit alleges. The case says some who spoke up were retaliated against for reporting the discrimination, some of which, per the suit, was perpetrated by the school’s star football player.
The lawsuit, which names as defendants LSU, its board of supervisors, the nonprofit Tiger Athletic Foundation, and a handful of school officials and employees, alleges LSU failed to follow its own policies and procedures, which the suit calls “contradictory, confusing, and difficult to understand,” in responding to and investigating reports of sexual discrimination and misconduct, and provide appropriate training to its staff and faculty. As a result, the plaintiffs and others have been severely harmed and denied due process, equal protection under the law, freedom of speech, and the ability to fully participate in their education at LSU, the lawsuit scathes, noting that some of the plaintiffs were forced to leave the school as a result of the discrimination they experienced and LSU’s failure to respond.
According to the lawsuit, LSU, its athletic department and Tiger Athletic Foundation, which provides private financial support for the athletic department, have implemented a “purposefully deficient” sexual misconduct and Title IX reporting program separate from the university’s official Title IX office in order to protect student athletes and coaches by keeping reports of sexual misconduct within the athletic department.
“This scheme stymied LSU’s overall Title IX reporting system, successfully insulated coaches and players within LSU’s athletic programs from legitimate sexual assault claims, and allowed the programs to continue operating unhindered to reach levels of success the program wouldn’t have reached otherwise,” the complaint alleges.
The lawsuit centers on aMarch 2021 reportpublished by law firm Husch Blackwell, who was retained in November 2020 to investigate LSU’s handling of several incidents of reported sexual discrimination identified in aUSA Todayinvestigation earlier this year and the school’s Title IX policies and procedures. Per the case, Husch Blackwell found that the university failed to handle several items brought to light in theUSA Todayreport “in a manner consistent with obligations under Title IX, widely recognized best practices, and/or University policy.” The report also found that various incidents of sexual misconduct were not appropriately reported to the school’s Title IX coordinator, and voiced concerns with regard to LSU’s “unclear” reporting policy and training prior to November 2016.
Citing the Husch Blackwell report, the lawsuit alleges LSU’s Title IX office has “never been appropriately staffed,” as it had between 2013 and 2018 just one employee who was responsible for ensuring that a university of 31,000 students and 6,500 employees remained free of sex discrimination.
“LSU’s Title IX Office of one was woefully inadequate to meet the needs of its campus and well outside the scope of industry standards for an institution of LSU’s size,” the suit states.
Further, while federal law required educational institutions to retain a Title IX coordinator as of 2011, LSU did not designate a coordinator until 2013, the suit says. Per the complaint, the individual named in the role also worked full-time as the school’s deputy general counsel, which the case notes presented a conflict of interest given the role of general counsel is to protect the university.
All told, the lawsuit says LSU failed to follow federal laws and regulations, best practices, and even its own policies and procedures with regard to reporting sexual misconduct, and prioritized its decision-making in instances of alleged sexual misconduct around “the highly profitable football program.”
According to the case, LSU has a culture of both failing to discipline male students, especially male student athletes, for acts of sexual misconduct against female students and failing to terminate employees for suppressing reports of such. Per the case, former LSU president F. King Alexander faced disciplinary action upon the release of the Husch Blackwell report for his alleged role in covering up reports of sexual misconduct and failing to enforce the school’s policies. Moreover, former LSU football coach Les Miles, who went on to coach at the University of Kansas before “parting ways” with the school in March 2021, was alleged in the report to have sexually harassed female student workers at LSU while the university covered up reports of the behavior, the suit says.
As for the plaintiffs, the lawsuit says the women were met with resistance when they attempted to report sex-based discrimination by male LSU students, including two of the school’s star football players. Per the case, LSU employees either failed to file Title IX reports when they learned of the incidents, or investigations were never properly conducted. Several of the plaintiffs report having not been offered any support, resources, accommodations or interim measures while their investigations were being conducted, and some even faced retaliation at the hands of LSU employees for reporting sexual discrimination, the suit says.
The lawsuit looks to represent the following class:
“All present, prospective and future students, as well as past students from 2013 to present, at Louisiana State University’s Baton Rouge campus who are harmed by Defendants’ failure to provide resources for students who experience discrimination on the basis of sex, including perceived sexual orientation, and/or gender presentation. Such discrimination includes but is not limited to sexual misconduct in the form of sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, stalking, sexual abuse, violence of a sexual nature, video voyeurism, or the obtaining, posting or disclosure of intimate descriptions, photos, or videos without the express consent of the persons depicted therein, as well as crimes of a sexual nature as defined in Title 14 of the Louisiana Revised Statutes.”
The case alleges violations of Title IX, the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act and various Louisiana state laws.
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