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Attorneys for Hawkeye program, coaches accuse former players of harassment
‘These notices are intended primarily to harass the Iowa coaches’
University of Iowa attorneys are accusing the former Hawkeye football players suing for racially-motivated discrimination of harassing head coach Kirk Ferentz and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz.
They made that argument, among others — including the undue burden both coaches would face if they have to sit for depositions later this month — in asking a judge to postpone the date of their sworn out-of-court testimony until January.
“This schedule is extremely burdensome for me because it occurs in the middle of the football season when my days and evenings are already committed to my duties as head coach of the football team,” Kirk Ferentz said in a court-filed declaration this week. “I am currently engaged more than full time in performing my duties as head coach, and those duties occupy almost all of my waking hours during each day of the season.”
Despite the suing players’ argument that postponing depositions would set a “dangerous precedent” of offering special privileges to football coaches — who they argue are “no more important than the doctors, CEOs, police chiefs, and directors of government agencies who are called to testify in civil actions” — a judge sided with UI.
Instead of conducting the depositions during the Hawkeyes’ upcoming bye week Oct. 19 and 20 — to “continue day-to-day until completed” — the two coaches are scheduled to be deposed after the end of the football season, in January.
“The court recognizes that the plaintiffs are entitled to proceed with their case in an efficient manner,” Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge Helen C. Adams ruled Thursday. “However given that the depositions will be moved back only two months, and considering that trial is not set until 2023, the parties will have ample time to engage in discovery and even in mediation should the parties pursue that avenue.”
The former Hawkeye football players named in the lawsuit include Akrum Wadley, Jonathan Parker, Marcel Joly, Aaron Mends, Darian Cooper, Brandon Simon, and Javon Foy. They accuse Kirk and Brian Ferentz, Chris Doyle, the University of Iowa, and Board of Regents of creating a “racially hostile environment” and say Brian Ferentz and Doyle “regularly used verbal abuse and racial epithets” and “intentionally discriminated” against players.
The players last month accused UI of intentionally delaying the case and of not cooperating with document requests. And they revived those allegations this week in pushing for the coach depositions later this month.
“This action, which was brought to vindicate a group of Black student-athletes’ civil rights, was filed nearly a year ago,” according to court documents. “Regardless of the fact that a trial is not scheduled in this matter until 2023, plaintiffs have a right to move forward with their case in an expeditious manner, without undue delay.”
Plus, they argue, without the depositions and requested documents, the university has “little incentive to participate in meaningful settlement negotiations.”
In pushing to postpone Kirk and Brian Ferentz’s depositions, UI made the following arguments:
- They weren’t given enough time to prepare, as notices for the Oct. 19 and 20 depositions came Sept. 17. Although that might seem sufficient, they note, “The realities of the Iowa coaches’ schedules during the fall demonstrates the lack of reasonableness.”
“Both are currently in the midst of the UI football season, the busiest time of year for both individuals,” according to court documents. “To make matters worse, UI football has a major game scheduled for Oct. 30, 2021, for which the Iowa coaches will be required to devote their full attention.”
- Any travel needed for the depositions would create additional hardship and “take even more time away from both of their very busy schedules.”
- Because the players’ attorneys haven’t yet given the defense all the documents it’s requested, “many details of plaintiffs’ claims remain unknown to defendants.”
- The trial isn’t scheduled for more than year — in March 2023 — meaning, “There is no urgency requiring taking either of these depositions in the midst of the UI football season.”
“This, combined with the fact that plaintiffs chose to notice the two individuals whom the (university) has made repeatedly clear are not available for depositions this time of year, demonstrates that these notices are intended primarily to harass the Iowa coaches with full awareness of their schedules and responsibilities during the football season.”
In pushing for Kirk and Brian Ferentz depositions this month, players’ attorneys made these arguments:
- More than a month is “more than enough to prepare.”
- The claim that player allegations “remain unknown” to defendants is “unpersuasive.”
“Plaintiffs’ complaint was 92 pages long and referenced reports that defendants already have in their possession,” according to court documents. “Defendants have all the information they need to prepare for the depositions.”
- Deposition notices “were not served to harass,” according to the defense, which argues the push to wait “was filed to cause undue delay.”
“Simply moving forward with discovery hardly constitutes harassment,” according to court documents. “Plaintiffs intentionally scheduled the depositions at issue during Iowa’s bye week so as to prevent undue burden on the deponents. Moreover, plaintiffs’ counsel advised defendants’ counsel of their intent to conduct these depositions during Iowa’s bye week as early as May 2021.”
- Regardless of when the trial is set, the players “have a right to move forward with their case in an expeditious manner, without undue delay.”
“This action, which was brought to vindicate a group of Black student-athletes’ civil rights, was filed nearly a year ago,” according to court documents, noting, “A trial is not the only way to dispose of this case, and until plaintiffs have deposed the key actors, defendants will have little incentive to participate in meaningful settlement negotiations.”
- The players have tried to compromise in multiple ways, “but defendants refuse.”
“Plaintiffs’ counsel indicated they would agree to withdraw their subpoena to Brian Ferentz, but that plaintiffs needed to move forward with deposing Kirk Ferentz,” according to court records. “Plaintiffs also offered to conduct the deposition virtually to eliminate the need for travel.”
The university rejected the offer.
- Pushing the deposition would “set a dangerous precedent.”
“All litigants necessarily experience inconvenience while prosecuting or defending civil actions. It is an unfortunate reality,” the player attorneys wrote. “The fact that the subjects of the notices of deposition at issue are football coaches does not exempt them from this, nor does it give them special grounds on which to avoid participating in litigation.”
Judge delays depositions for Ferentzes in racial bias case
Although the judge said she does not believe the players are intentionally harassing the coaches with their requests, “The court is unconvinced by plaintiffs’ argument that the depositions must take place on the October dates.”
“While the court recognizes that football coaches do not enjoy any special grounds for complying with litigation requirements,” the judge wrote. “The defendants have demonstrated that requiring the coaches to be deposed in the midst of their football season would subject them to substantial hardship.”
Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.
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