KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — The lawyer for six women suing the University of Tennessee over its handling of sexual assault complaints by student-athletes is focused on what he considers the school’s systemic problems and is surprised at the attention the complaint’s brief mention of Peyton Manning generated.
"It’s certainly unanticipated," attorney David Randolph Smith said.
Smith said he included events from the past two decades — one involved Manning in 1996 — to show how Tennessee has handled reports of misconduct.
"We included one small paragraph about the Manning situation in the complaint, just as part of the overall background and history," Smith said.
"Peyton Manning is not a party to our lawsuit," he added. "All these reports that say he’s in the lawsuit, well he’s referenced, but it’s part of the historical" background.
The lawsuit filed last week in federal court in Nashville states Tennessee has violated Title IX regulations and created a "hostile sexual environment" through a policy of indifference toward assaults by student-athletes.
The suit focuses on five cases that were reported between 2013 and 2015, but it also references incidents involving Tennessee student-athletes dating to 1995.
One paragraph in the 64-page document refers to a sexual harassment complaint made by a Tennessee trainer in 1996 involving an incident that occurred in a training room while she was treating Manning, the quarterback at Tennessee from 1994-97 who just helped the Denver Broncos win the Super Bowl.
Smith did say that as he prepares discovery for the Title IX lawsuit, he would look into some of the allegations in the 2003 document that details how former Volunteers trainer Jamie Ann Naughright perceived Tennessee was handling her sexual harassment complaints against the men’s athletic department.
Manning’s father, Archie, declined comment via text.
After giving his "State of the University of Tennessee" address Tuesday in Nashville, school President Joe DiPietro read from a statement in which he said he couldn’t take any questions related to pending litigation, specifically the Title IX lawsuit.
DiPietro instead reiterated a statement issued last week by the school’s attorney, Bill Ramsey, that said "any assertion that we do not take sexual assault seriously enough is simply not true.
"To claim that we have allowed a culture to exist contrary to our institutional commitment to providing a safe environment for our students or that we do not support those who report sexual assault is just false."
DiPietro also said, "We’re always concerned about our students’ safety and we always strive to keep a safe environment."
In the current legal proceedings, U.S. District Judge Aleta Trauger denied on Tuesday the six unidentified women’s motion to temporarily restrain the university "in their official capacities, from utilizing the Tennessee Uniform Administrative Procedures Act in its investigation and adjudication of campus sexual assault cases involving university students."
The plaintiffs in the Title IX lawsuit say the school’s use of the "discriminatory" Tennessee Uniform Administrative Procedures Act in its investigation of sexual assault cases "allows only accused perpetrators of sexual assaults (and not victims) to have the right of confrontation, cross-examination and a right to an evidentiary administrative hearing." The complaint adds that Tennessee is "unique among U.S. colleges and universities" in using this procedure.
Ramsey had said in a statement that every state agency in Tennessee has been required to comply with the Uniform Administrative Procedures Act since 1974, so "the implication that the UAPA is a process created by the University of Tennessee and reserved for student-athletes is ludicrous."
Ramsey added Tuesday that if a student allegedly involved in a sexual assault has this type of hearing, the person making the complaint is permitted to have a lawyer who can intervene on her behalf and cross-examine witnesses.
Naughright reached a $300,000 settlement with the school in 1997 regarding her sexual-harassment complaints against the men’s athletic department.
She sued Manning for defamation in 2002 in Florida after he discussed the incident in a book and said she had a "vulgar mouth." That lawsuit was settled a year later, but the New York Daily News released a 74-page document Saturday that Naughright’s lawyers had filed on her behalf in 2003 while the defamation suit was in litigation.
Her 1996 sexual harassment complaints against the Tennessee men’s athletic department included an incident in which Manning exposed his buttocks as Naughright, then known as Jamie Whited, bent over to examine his foot. Manning said at the time it was a prank intended for another athlete. The sexual harassment complaint described the incident as a "mooning," but in the defamation lawsuit, Naughright alleged Manning placed his "naked butt" on her face.
The UltraViolet women’s group issued a statement Tuesday urging Nationwide Car Rental and Papa John’s Pizza to drop Manning as a spokesman and mentioned his inclusion in the Title IX lawsuit.