By Courtney Flower
The University of Tennessee (UT) released an independent commission report of its system-wide Title IX policies and procedures. The report originated from the Doe et al v. University of Tennessee settlement in which UT was ordered to examine its Title IX protocols. In addition, the case cited UT for fostering a “hostile sexual environment.” The plaintiffs agreed to a settlement and the school, which had 64 reports of sexual misconduct in 2016, agreed to have an independent commission review its Title IX protocols and practices. As a result, the plaintiffs agreed to withdraw complaints of UT’s alleged negligence in filing the sexual assault claims to the Office of Civil Rights in 2015.
Although, the University of Tennessee did not admit to guilt, negligence or misconduct it did agree to implement mandatory sexual assault training for employees and disclosure of information pertaining to student sexual misconduct, including training provided to students and campus employees.
Title IX Lawsuit
Doe et al v. University of Tennessee sought declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief for eight women disclosed as Jane Doe I -VIII in the federal case. The lawsuit listed five UT student-athletes as perpetrators of sexual assault. In addition, the unidentified plaintiffs alleged the University of Tennessee violated its Title IX rights through creating a “hostile sexual environment.” For example, the plaintiffs aver that the University of Tennessee at Knoxville acted in “deliberate indifference” in its response to female reporting of sexual assault by male athletes from UT’s football and basketball athletic programs.
Moreover, the lawsuit alleged UT abused the Tennessee Uniform Administrative Procedures Act (TUAPA), which is a system used by public universities in Tennessee to hear complaints. More specifically, the plaintiffs aver that male athletes from the basketball and football programs were aware of the institution’s culture of “deliberate indifference” in the TUAPA system. Moreover, they alleged athletes were supported unjustly throughout the university’s process of reviewing sexual assault cases. To further support this claim, the plaintiffs cite an alleged incident of sexual misconduct between Peyton Manning and Dr. Jaime Naughright.
Peyton Manning’s Alleged Sexual Misconduct at UT
In order to prove the existence of a hostile and discriminatory sexual environment, the plaintiffs cited the retired NFL football quarterback, Peyton Manning’s alleged sexual misconduct as a student-athlete at UT. The plaintiff’s alleged that Dr. Jamie Naughright, then an associate trainer at UT reported that Manning, had “sat on her face” while she was assessing his injury. It was further cited that Naughright was asked by UT athletic officials to blame the sexual indiscretions on an African-American athlete (McCann, 2016). Manning publicly denied Naughright’s accusations stating “possibly ‘crude’ but nonetheless ‘harmless’ event occurred (McCann, 2016).
The Manning incident was settled in 1997 for $300,000 and Naughright was asked to leave her position at UT. Lawyers for the Jane Doe plaintiffs cite the misconduct in the Manning case as proof of UT’s unjust culture of Title IX reporting and further supports their claims of UT fostering a “hostile sexual environment.”
The plaintiffs in Doe et al v. University of Tennessee were awarded $2.48 million in their federal lawsuit against the University of Tennessee. In addition, the settlement also included fees for the plaintiff’s lawyers. Furthermore, the settlement payment would be split between the UT Knoxville campus and the athletic department. It was reported that the funds would come from UT “income-generating activities” and would not include taxpayer dollars, student tuition or donated fund fees (Slaby, 2016).
The Commission Report
As part of the 2016 settlement of the Title IX lawsuit,UT agreed to appoint an independent commission (Commission) to examine the System’s Title IX policies and practices. The 29-page report outlines an examination of the Commission’s review of the UT System’s policies and programs to handle sex harassment and gendered-based discrimination.
The Commission was made up of four independent committee members:
Stan Brand, an attorney;
Elizabeth Conklin, Associate Vice President of the Office of Institutional Equity and Title IX Coordinator at the University of Connecticut;
Janet Judge, President of Sports Law Associates LLC of Boston;
Bill Morelli, a compliance, ethics and organizational dynamics specialized attorney.
In summary, the Commission recommended that the UT system institute the following:
Hiring of a system-wide Title IX coordinator
Enhancements to Title IX staffing and resources
Changes to the grievance procedures and student codes of conduct
Modifications to case management
Education, prevention and training enhancements for employees and staff
The Commission’s Finding and Recommendations
The four members of the Commission gathered and examined the UT System’s sexual harassment and gender-based discrimination policies and procedures for more than six months. Within this period, they conducted interviews with administrators and staff members who were engaged in the System’s Title IX response and prevention efforts. The Commission also held focus groups with students on three UT campuses, including UTK, which was the focus of the Title IX lawsuit.
Overall the Commission stated “the Title IX programs, policies, and materials across the System comprehensively address the elements contained in the statutory, regulatory, and guidance documents governing this area.” The published report further cites some areas of improvement. As such, the report highlights a need to hire a system-wide Title IX coordinator to help regulate the functionality, support cross-campus communication, and foster campus wide consistency of prevention and training programs encompassing sexual misconduct and gender-based discrimination on all UT campuses.
In addition, it was recommended that UT modify the student codes of conduct as well as other campus student policies. Therefore, removing the legalistic language to enhance comprehension of Title IX policies amongst staff, administrators, and students. In addition, it was also recommended to modify Title IX training, awareness, and prevention programs to become more consistent across the System. The Commission also cited a need to clarify the protocols of offices pertaining to case management of Title IX reporting. In this respect, they suggested the inclusion of an after-hours support and resource center for both complainants and respondents.
Aligning the Report to the Title IX Lawsuit
The report also addressed Title IX infractions disclosed in Doe et al v. University of Tennessee. The lawsuit citedUT’s Title IX reporting process as unjust for female complainants. In alignment, the Commission cited frustration among interviewed community members on due process of the reporting procedures as well as timeframe for resolving Title IX cases. As a result, the Commission recommended the implementation of additional support for complainants and respondents involved in extended TUAPA proceedings. It further recommended the evaluation of respondent protocols to assure consistent and equitable treatment.
Also cited in Doe et al v. University of Tennessee was the athletic department’s interference in TUAPA proceedings. The Commission stated, “while senior management and athletics department personnel at UTK, UTC, and UTM demonstrated a heightened awareness of the importance of Title IX prevention and compliance, continued targeted focus in this area should continue.” Moreover, the report cited confusion among students and staff regarding confidentiality and reporting obligations of athletic staff members. In reference to the confusion, the Commission encouraged Title IX coordinators at the UTK, UTC, and UTM campuses to work with athletic administrators to “prioritize education, prevention and response efforts in athletics for students and staff, coaches and department volunteers.” More specifically, the Commission recommended the facilitation of Title IX trainings for student-athletes, first-year players, recruits, and transfers.
It also suggested that student-athlete transfer protocols and documentation include language highlighting sexual violence and misconduct policies as well as meeting conference standards on Title IX. In this vein, it was recommended for [delete] the athletic department to [delete] include a Title IX nondiscrimination link on the athletic webpage and recruiting sites. In addition, it should provide information pertaining to reporting procedures and obligations of athletic administrators and staff.
However, the Commission also celebrated the UTK football and men’s basketball teams for conducting Title IX trainings during the 2016-17 academic year and UTK’s efforts in contracting a counseling agency to “create a focused in-house wellness program.”
Finally, in response to the report, the UT system President Dr. Joe DiPietro announced the development of a system-wide Title IX coordinator position and implementation of the Commission’s recommendations.
Brand, S. et al (2017, June 15). Report of the Special Independent Commission on Title IX Resources and Programs for the University of Tennessee. Retrieved from, http://president.tennessee.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2017/06/Report-of-the-Special-Independent-Commission-on-Title-IX-Resources-and-Programs-for-the-University-of-Tennessee-June-15-201717.pdf
Cobb (2017, June 17). University of Tennessee Title IX compliance report unveiled. Retrieved from, http://www.timesfreepress.com/news/breakingnews/story/2017/jun/17/university-tennessee-title-ix-compliance-report-unveiled/433870/
McCann, M. (2016, February 13). Breaking down sexual assault allegations against Peyton Manning. Retrieved from, https://www.si.com/nfl/2016/02/13/peyton-manning-tennessee-sexual-assault-allegations-Jamie-Naughright
Slaby, M. (2016, March 7). Plaintiffs say Peyton Manning is relevant to UT lawsuit’s Title IX claims. Retrieved from, http://archive.knoxnews.com/news/local/plaintiffs-say-peyton-manning-is-relevant-to-ut-lawsuits-title-ix-claims-2d7c8d61-02cf-60d9-e053-010-371309451.html/
Slaby, MJ & Dopirak, D. (2016, July 5). University of Tennessee settles Title IX lawsuit for $2.48 million. Knoxville News Sentinel. Retrieved from, http://archive.knoxnews.com/news/local/ut-settles-title-ix-lawsuit-for-248-million-36cfb409-2921-4d9c-e053-0100007f0d02-385623781.html/
WJHL. (2017, June 17). University of Tennessee releases Title IX report. Retrieved from, http://wjhl.com/2017/06/17/university-of-tennessee-releases-title-ix-report-2/
Courtney L. Flowers, Ph.D. is a professor of Sport Management at Texas Southern University. Her scholarship encompasses Title IX and Racial and Gender inequality in women’s sports and golf.