A woman who alleged that she was gang raped by three University of Oregon basketball players last spring filed a federal lawsuit against the school and its head basketball coach Thursday, alleging that they violated her civil rights under the federal law known as Title IX.
The suit named the University of Oregon and coach Dana Altman, accusing him of allowing Brandon Austin to transfer to the school despite the fact he’d been suspended from the basketball team at Providence College after he and a teammate were accused of a rape there.
No criminal charges were filed either in the Providence case or in the alleged rape at Oregon.
In the incident at Oregon, the woman alleged that after drinking at a party she was cornered in a bathroom by Austin, Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson – all members of the Ducks basketball team at the time – and raped. She also alleged that the trio then took her to an off-campus apartment and assaulted her again.
The three players told police the encounter was consensual.
Prosecutors concluded they did not have enough evidence to file criminal charges, in part because the woman acknowledged that she had been drinking, had trouble remembering some of the events clearly and that she may have had consensual sex with one of the men the next morning.
The university, however, kicked all three men off the team and banned them from the Oregon campus for at least four years and as many as 10, depending on how long the woman remains a student.
In a letter to the university community issued late Thursday afternoon, the school’s interim president, Scott Coltrane, called the lawsuit “unfortunate” but “not unanticipated.”
The suit was filed four days before Oregon’s football team faces Ohio State in the national championship game.
“This is a very important case that needs to be litigated,” said John Clune, one of the attorneys representing the woman. “It is time for athletic departments to stop trading the safety of women on campus for points on a scoreboard.”
The suit identifies Austin as the “clear instigator and most aggressive of the three assailants.” While it does not name Artis and Dotson, they were previously identified as the other two players who were accused of assaulting the woman.
Altman’s lawyers said in an email that they have "reviewed this matter and believe the plaintiff’s allegations against the University of Oregon and Dana Altman lack merit. The University’s response to the plaintiff’s situation was caring, comprehensive, and complied fully with all laws and other obligations.
"The plaintiff herself, through her attorney, previously released a statement praising the University’s response. To the extent the plaintiff maintains that the University or Dana Altman is responsible for the alleged sexual misconduct, that is incorrect and we are prepared to address those allegations in court," the comment continued. "Because these matters are now subject to a lawsuit, we are unable to provide additional comments at this time."
An attorney who has represented Austin could not be reached for comment. Attempts to reach Artis through athletic officials at Diablo Valley College, where he is now a student, were not successful. Dotson could not be located by FOX Sports.
The suit asserts that after Austin sought to transfer after he was suspended indefinitely at Providence, and that Altman and members of his staff “immediately and actively recruited” the player and allowed him to come to Oregon despite the fact he was accused of rape.
When asked what Oregon coaches knew, Austin’s mother responded, “We told them everything. They knew everything,” according to the suit.
Austin was prevented from playing immediately due to NCAA transfer rules, but the suit alleges that Altman placed no restrictions on the player after the transfer, which was concluded two weeks after the public announcement of his suspension for the season at Providence.
FOX Sports previously reported that Altman was quoted on Oregon’s official athletic website as saying that he had looked into Austin’s background and found nothing that dissuaded him from accepting the player as a transfer.
“That’s always something that we consider very strongly,” Altman said, according to a story on goducks.com. “But in talking with their coaching staff, we felt like this was something that was not of a serious nature and we’d be able to move on from there.”
Title IX requires all colleges and universities receiving federal funding to promptly investigate alleged sexual assaults involving students and to take whatever action is appropriate. The guidelines issued by the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights contemplates that those investigations should be completed within 60 days in most cases.
But the lawsuit alleges that Oregon officials dragged their feet after learning of the woman’s accusations on March 9, the day after the alleged incident and the day she reported it to the Eugene Police Department. Specifically, the suit alleges that Oregon officials didn’t initiate action against the three until after basketball season ended in May – after Artis and Dotson “went on to play key roles in UO’s basketball games in the Pac-12 Conference Tournament and the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, and defendant Altman was awarded large bonuses for the wins in the tournaments.”
“During this time, UO failed to take effective corrective action to end the hostile educational environment plaintiff experienced because of the rape and her continued exposure to the perpetrators, or to ensure plaintiff’s full and equal access to educational benefits and opportunities,” the suit alleges. “Rather, UO delayed taking any action on the sexual assaults for over two months while it prioritized winning basketball games over the health, safety, and welfare of its students, including plaintiff.”