The University of Oregon and men’s basketball coach Dana Altman were sued Thursday afternoon by the alleged victim of a March sexual assault involving three former Ducks basketball players in a suit that says, in part, that Altman was fully aware that one of the players, Brandon Austin, had been suspended from his former college because of another sexual assault accusation.
The 18-page civil complaint was filed in U.S. District Court in Eugene by attorneys John Clune of Boulder, Colo., and Jennifer Middleton of Eugene, on behalf of the alleged victim, who they say “suffered damages and injuries as a result of the UO’s violations of Title IX.”
The alleged victim is a current UO student who is listed as Jane Doe. Her Title IX rights were violated, the suit says, because of what it calls Oregon’s “deliberate indifference” to the safety of its students by recruiting a player with a history such as Austin’s.
It seeks a jury trial and undetermined amount of damages for the alleged victim’s tuition and “past, present and future emotional pain and suffering, ongoing and severe mental anguish, and loss of past, present and future enjoyment of life.”
“This is a very important case that needs to be litigated,” Clune wrote in a later statement to the media. “It is time for athletic departments to stop trading the safety of women on campus for points on a scoreboard.”
Interim University President Scott Coltrane wrote faculty, staff and students that UO anticipated such a lawsuit.
“The university disagrees with the allegations against it and believes that it acted in accordance with the law, including Title IX,” Coltrane said. “This litigation in no way undermines the university’s on-going commitment to support the student inside and outside of the classroom.”
The players were barred from campus for at least four years, and up to 10, in June, by the university. But before that discipline was handed down, the suit alleges, the university struck a deal before its scheduled hearing. The players waived their right to a hearing in exchange for an “administrative conference,” the suit says, an agreement that gave the university full control over the discipline. In exchange, the suit says the players were not expelled and that their transcripts would omit any reference to “sexual misconduct” — both of which would make transferring to another school more difficult.
“UO delayed taking any action on the sexual assaults for over two months while it prioritized winning basketball games over the health, safety and welfare of its students, including plaintiff,” it says.
The alleged sexual assault took place in the early hours of March 9, as players and students celebrated the Ducks’ victory against No. 3 Arizona in the regular season finale. Five weeks later in April, the Lane Country District Attorney declined to charge Brandon Austin, Damyean Dotson and Dominic Artis, citing “conflicting statements and actions by the victim” while acknowledging that the Eugene Police Department’s investigation revealed there was nonetheless “no doubt the incidents occurred.”
Within days of the police report going public on May 5, Oregon announced it had actually dismissed the players back on May 1. Throughout, Altman and athletic director Rob Mullens said that though they knew Austin had been suspended and under investigation by Providence College before transferring to Oregon in January, they never knew the reason.
“He did not give specifics so my line of questioning probably didn’t go deep enough there in retrospect,” Altman said May 9. “But I did not have a specific reason.”
The suit disputes that.
“Upon information and belief, Altman and other UO personnel were fully aware of the basis for Austin’s season-long suspension,” it says. “In fact, Austin’s mother, when asked about what the UO coaches knew, said, ‘We told them everything. They knew everything.'”
The alleged victim remains in school at Oregon. In June, a university disciplinary board barred all three players from campus for at least four years and up to 10.
In July, attorneys representing Austin and Artis said the players “were denied impartial justice” when the university denied their request to hold the hearing in accordance with the Oregon Administrative Procedures Act.
There was a reason that didn’t happen, the new suit says, pointing toward the deal.
Calling the agreement a “curious deal,” the suit says that in addition to not expelling the players or noting any sexual misconduct on their transcripts, Oregon’s administration guaranteed “that no one would receive a physical copy of the final written outcome — including plaintiff.”
Two of the three players are back to playing basketball this winter.
Austin is averaging 15.9 points and 18.5 minutes of playing time for Northwest Florida State College, a junior college where he could play immediately. Artis is attending Diablo Valley College near his home in California’s Bay Area. He is practicing but will not play, which allows him to retain two years of eligibility should he transfer to a Division I school later this year. Since his return to his hometown of Houston, Dotson has yet to find a landing spot.
The suit also claims that the university violated the alleged victim’s rights under the Federal Educational Records and Privacy Act — the same act the university cited when releasing heavily redacted records. According to the complaint, an unnamed member of UO’s administration ordered its Counseling and Testing Center in December to turn over the alleged victim’s therapy records without any legal basis, nor authorization from the alleged victim herself.
“The privileged records were unlawfully collected for the UO administration and their attorneys to gain advantage in preparing for any future litigation,” the suit says.
Two reviews at Oregon, one led by a faculty Senate task force, the other by a panel chosen by administration, attempted last fall to see how the university could have handled the accusations better.
In its initial findings from October, the faculty Senate’s review acknowledged that the problem of sexual assault on campuses is not a new one. But it also sought to break down “the walls of secrecy that surround” the Ducks’ athletic department and its Greek life.
The suit was filed four days before a much more favorable spotlight for Oregon. The Ducks’ football team plays Ohio State for the College Football National Championship in Arlington, Texas, on Monday evening.
“We filed as soon as the investigation was completed and we had zero interest in waiting until after the national championship,” Clune said.