Iowa Football

University of Iowa argues to dismiss former football player lawsuit

UI: They've passed the statute of limitations and 'fail to plead sufficient facts'

University of Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta discusses findings of the independent review of issues of racial dispari
University of Iowa Athletic Director Gary Barta discusses findings of the independent review of issues of racial disparities in the program during a press conference in the Feller Club Room at Carver-Hawkeye Arena in Iowa City on Thursday, July 30, 2020. (Liz Martin/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — Responding to a federal complaint accusing University of Iowa Athletics and football coaches of mistreating and discriminating against Black players, the state wants the case dismissed — arguing the former athletes sued too late, didn’t give enough specifics, and failed to connect bad behavior to race.

Of the 13 former Hawkeye players suing UI Athletics Director Gary Barta, head football coach Kirk Ferentz, assistant football coach Brian Ferentz, interim strength and conditioning coach Raimond Braithwaite, and former strength and conditioning coach Chris Doyle, the state argues most are outside the statute of limitations.

“Ten plaintiffs all left the University of Iowa football program more than two years before the filing of this suit and thus could not have been subject to any action by defendants within the applicable statute of limitations,” according to the state’s Jan. 25 motion to dismiss the case. “Second, all the claims of all thirteen plaintiffs must be dismissed because (they) fail to plead sufficient facts.”

The former UI athletes named as plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Akrum Wadley, Reggie Spearman, Kevonte Martin-Manley, Aaron Mends, Marcel Joly, Maurice Fleming, Jonathan Parker, Brandon Simon, Terrence Harris, Andre Harris, Javon Foy, Darian Cooper and LaRon Taylor.

They’ve accused UI administrators and coaches — in a federal lawsuit that started in District Court — of eight counts, including maintaining a racially hostile educational environment, retaliation, systemic discrimination, conspiracy, civil rights violations, and breach of contract.

Although a UI-sanctioned independent investigation found football program rules “perpetrated racial and cultural biases,” and coaches admitted and apologized for shortcomings, UI attorneys argue the player lawsuit “should be dismissed for failure to assert sufficient factual allegations.”

“Although the 77-page, 357-paragraph first amended complaint — like the original complaint — may at first appear to contain a wealth of factual detail, a closer look reveals that many allegations do not involve these plaintiffs,” according to the UI motion to dismiss.

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The Tulsa, Okla., civil rights attorney Demario Solomon-Simmons and his colleagues collaborating to represent the former UI athletes had until Monday to resist the UI push to dismiss. But on Monday they asked the court for more time due to recent bad weather in the southern United States.

“Inclement weather left plaintiffs’ out-of-state counsel and families experiencing and addressing power outages and water shortages,” according to the request, which the judge granted.

The athletes now have until March 1 to respond to a list of UI arguments, including numerous contentions with the athlete accusations — beyond the expired statute of limitations.

“Plaintiffs have filed a classic ‘shotgun pleading’ containing several counts, each one incorporating by reference the allegations of its predecessors, leading to a situation where most of the counts … contain irrelevant factual allegations and legal conclusions,” according to UI attorneys.

Take one allegation in the athletes’ complaint accusing UI coaching staff of responding differently to social media photos of players with firearms — depending on their race. Although Black athletes were told to take down their photos and white athletes were not, UI attorneys argue the athletes make “no direct allegation that the coaching staff was aware of the photograph posted by the white football players.”

One athlete, according to the university’s response to other accusations of discrimination, also failed to show “either specificity or a direct nexus between the alleged harassment and his race beyond a ‘threadbare assertion.’”

Javon Foy, for example, accused coach Doyle of bullying him for his hairstyle, “‘merely because he is an African-American,’ without alleging any sort of dates, specificity in the ‘bullying,’ or degree of frequency to this allegation, according to UI attorneys.

“Plaintiff Foy fails to allege any facts that support a direct causal connection from this alleged act to his race; instead, he simply asserts that it constituted ‘racially-motivated disparate treatment,’” according to UI attorneys.

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Although players in their lawsuit lay out repeat examples, names, and circumstances involved in the alleged discrimination and harassment, UI attorneys contend the men didn’t say enough about who took discriminatory action, who they complained to, “or any other specific description of the playing restrictions, conditioning drills, public humiliation, or slander that were allegedly taken.”

“These plaintiffs’ allegations either fail to allege plausible or specific harassing conduct, fail to allege sufficient notice of this conduct on the part of the university, or fail to establish a causal nexus between the conduct and a discriminatory motive,” per the UI argument.

Comments: (319) 339-3158; vanessa.miller@thegazette.com

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