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IOWA CITY — Former Hawkeye football players suing the University of Iowa and some athletics staffers for racially motivated discrimination and harassment are reporting a behind-the-scenes dispute over discovery and asking a judge to extend a deadline because of it.
The athletes last week, through their attorneys, asked the federal judge on the case to give them three more months to identify expert witnesses and submit expert reports after the university responded to their “discovery requests” with “a negligible number of documents, hardly any of which contained substantive content.”
The athletes reported making their requests May 31 — a few weeks after the judge denied the university’s request she dismiss the case — and said the university produced its “negligible” response July 28, according to court documents.
“Plaintiffs have been attempting to schedule a conference with defendants … to attempt a resolution of the disputes regarding defendants’ discovery responses since August,” according to the athletes’ court filing. “Defendants have not been available to date.”
They noted a meeting was scheduled for Sept. 16. But given their deadline to submit expert names and reports is Tuesday — according to a schedule that has the case going to trial in March 2023 — the athletes want more time to resolve the disputes, obtain sought materials and allow experts enough time to evaluate them and prepare reports.
“Due to the state of discovery, plaintiffs have virtually nothing for an expert to review and evaluate,” according to court documents. “As a courtesy to defendants, plaintiffs have been waiting to hold depositions until the University of Iowa football team’s bye week in October.”
The next status conference in the case is scheduled for Oct. 19 — just days before the Hawkeyes’ bye weekend.
Plaintiffs named in an amended lawsuit include Akrum Wadley, Jonathan Parker, Marcel Joly, Aaron Mends, Darian Cooper, Brandon Simon and Javon Foy. Defendants include Kirk and Brian Ferentz, Chris Doyle, the University of Iowa and Board of Regents.
In her ruling on the university’s request she dismiss the case, U.S. District Judge Stephanie Rose in May agreed some allegations came too late and could not proceed but found two counts could: one accusing the football program of creating a “racially hostile environment,” and one alleging that Brian Ferentz and Doyle “regularly used verbal abuse and racial epithets” and “intentionally discriminated” against players.
Rose dropped Athletic Director Gary Barta from the lawsuit altogether and dropped Kirk Ferentz from one of the two remaining counts. In her ruling, Rose said the university was downplaying the allegations in attempting to persuade her to dismiss them.
“The facts advanced by plaintiffs describe harassment that is actionable under the law,” Rose wrote. “The alleged harassment is pervasive. It occurred, particularly the racial epithets and insults, on a regular basis, according to the amended complaint. The allegations, taken as true … are very severe.”
Reiterating the severity of the accusations, Rose wrote: “The comments about players’ intelligence, gang membership, and purported criminality are very severe — particularly coming from individuals in positions of authority such as defendants Doyle and Brian Ferentz.”
Given the trial is scheduled for 2023, the parties could reach a settlement before then.
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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