University of Tennessee Settles Sexual Assault Lawsuit For $2.48 Million

KNOXVILLE, TN – Attorneys representing both sides of a Title IX lawsuit against the University of Tennessee, announced today they are settling the case for $2,480,000.

David Randolph Smith of Nashville, who represents the eight plaintiffs in the lawsuit he filed February 24, said, “My clients and I are dismissing the lawsuit with prejudice and signed the settlement agreement. We are satisfied that, while universities everywhere struggle with these issues, the University of Tennessee has made significant progress in the way they educate and respond to sexual assault cases. My clients and I are also convinced that the University’s leadership is truly committed to continue its exemplary efforts to create a model as it relates to sexual misconduct.

“If we all can look ahead,” Smith said, “and imagine our state’s flagship university as a leader in awareness, education, support and aggressive response to these issues, this lawsuit and the resulting outcome would have contributed in a small way to the safety, well-being and hopeful futures of many young people who from time to time call the University of Tennessee home.”

Aubrey Harwell and Bill Ramsey of the Nashville law firm Neal and Harwell, in a statement said, “We recommended and applaud this outcome. Now, the University can continue its aggressive efforts to deal with Title IX issues, and the plaintiffs can go about their lives without the public agony of protracted litigation and trial.”

Dr. Jimmy G. Cheek, Chancellor of UT-Knoxville, praised the agreement and said that he has approved and will announce a new round of initiatives for the campus. He described those initiatives as part of the institution’s ongoing review of its approach to improve its Title IX efforts, unrelated to the lawsuit. These initiatives will include additional support specifically in areas related to sexual assault, student conduct, educational programming and student well-being along with a significant budget increase in recurring funds for these areas.

“No university will be able to prevent every incident of students, faculty or staff making bad judgments,” Cheek said. “Like many institutions we are not perfect, but our goal is to continue to be the best we can be at creating awareness, educating, and preventing discrimination and abuse in any form, and to continue to be equally prepared when it does happen and to deal with it promptly, sensitively, fairly and effectively. We’ve come a long way in recent years, and we are working every day to be even better. Our first priority is the safety and well-being of every member of our University community.”

Dr. Joe DiPietro, UT System President said, “We are proud of the work done in recent years by our Title IX, student conduct and student welfare professionals at UTK and across our System to create awareness of, respond to and provide support around issues related to sexual assault and sexual misconduct.

“I continue to say that one incident of sexual misconduct is one too many,” said DiPietro. “But, unfortunately, on a college campus, these incidents will happen. When they do, I want the confidence of knowing that we did everything within our power to appropriately deal with the situation, and we provided the necessary support for all involved. There are no excuses for anything less.”

DiPietro said addressing the issues of sexual assault and misconduct will continue to be a priority for the UT System. He said, in the coming weeks, he will appoint an independent commission, which will review existing programs and efforts around these issues and make recommendations to further strengthen these critical activities across the UT system.

Raja Jubran, UT Board Vice Chair, said, “Settling this case was the right thing to do from a compassionate perspective for the young women involved and from a reputation perspective for the institution, regardless of the merits of the case.

“One side ultimately would have won in court several years from now, and we felt confident about our legal position,” Jubran said, “but I truly believe that both sides would have lost. The intangible costs of emotional stress to those involved and the distraction to all of our positive progress at UT, over and above actual legal costs, would have been exorbitant.”

The settlement was approved by the Vice Chair of the Board, the UT System President, UT Knoxville Chancellor, the UT Knoxville Vice Chancellor and Director of Athletics, UT General Counsel, Interim Chief Financial Officer; the State Attorney General, the State Comptroller, and the Governor. The court and leaders of both Houses of the Tennessee Legislature were informed of the settlement. Payment of the settlement will be split equally between the UT Knoxville Athletics Department and UT Knoxville central administration. No taxpayer dollars, no student tuition or fees, and no donor funds will be used to fund the settlement.

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