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IOWA CITY -- The federal lawsuit that a group of former University of Iowa football players filed in November accusing Hawkeye athletics staff members of racially-motivated discrimination, harassment and bullying has been set for a 10-day jury trial in Des Moines -- but two years from now.
The trial is set for May 6-18, 2023, before U.S. District Judge Stephanie Rose. The two sides could reach a settlement before then, although court documents filed this week say “a court-sponsored settlement conference is not necessary at this time.”
When the players first filed their complaint last fall — seeking $20 million and the firing of Athletic Director Gary Barta, head coach Kirk Ferentz and offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz — 13 former Hawkeyes were named as plaintiffs. Defendants included Barta, Kirk and Brian Ferentz, interim strength and conditioning coach Raimond Braithwaite, former conditioning coach Chris Doyle, the University of Iowa and the state Board of Regents.
After the university sought to dismiss the lawsuit entirely, saying most of the players were time-barred from suing and the complaint failed to present “sufficient facts,” Judge Rose this month agreed to drop some of the plaintiffs, defendants and complaints from the lawsuit. But she ruled two counts could move forward.
They include one accusing the Hawkeye football program of creating a “racially hostile environment” and another alleging Brian Ferentz and Doyle “regularly used verbal abuse and racial epithets” and “intentionally discriminated” against the players.
The judge dropped Barta from the lawsuit entirely, and she dropped Kirk Ferentz from one of the two counts she allowed to move forward. In the other, she said defendants were downplaying the allegations in trying to get them dismissed.
“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.”
Rose reiterated allegations that coaches regularly ridiculed and discriminated against African-American athletes based on their race.
“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,” she wrote. “The alleged use of the ‘n-word’ needs little exposition from the court regarding its severity.”
Plaintiffs now named in the lawsuit are Akrum Wadley, Jonathan Parker, Marcel Joly, Aaron Mends, Darian Cooper, Brandon Simon, and Javon Foy. Defendants now are Kirk and Brian Ferentz, Chris Doyle, the University of Iowa and the state Board of Regents.
Last June, the UI placed Doyle on leave amid allegations from some players that he made racial remarks, and then made a deal with him under which the university agreed to pay him at least $1.1 million to resign and not sue.
Lawyers Alfredo Parrish and Brandon Brown represented the plaintiffs in the recent filings. Jeffrey Peterzalek with the Iowa Attorney General’s Office represented the defendants.
A lawyer with Solomon Simmons Law in Tulsa, Okla., on Wednesday asked the court to allow her to appear for this occasion on behalf of the plaintiffs — even though she’s not licensed to practice in this state.
Kymberli J. M. Heckenkemper reports she’s in good standing with the Oklahoma bar and wants, for this case, to associate with Parrish and Brown. Heckenkemper reports she is a civil rights lawyer who recently joined the Solomon Simmons firm.
Damario Solomon-Simmons has been among the players’ attorneys from the case’s start and reports on his firm’s website that he’s currently lead counsel for “13 Black former University of Iowa football players against the State of Iowa.”
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