Lawyer for Minnesota players says lawsuits being discussed

MINNEAPOLIS -- An attorney representing a group of Minnesota football players says several are still considering bringing a federal lawsuit for what he says was a lack of due process during a Title IX investigation into allegations of sexual assault.

Ryan Pacyga, who represented Antoine Winfield Jr. during the proceedings and has since been brought on by Lee Hutton to help with representation of the other nine players involved, said Saturday that "everything is on the table."

The university's appeals panel on Friday upheld the recommended punishments for five players (expulsions for Dior Johnson, Tamarion Johnson, KiAnte Hardin and Ray Buford and a one-year suspension for Mark Williams), wiped out the punishments for four others (one-year suspensions for Winfield, Seth Green and Kobe McCrary, and probation for Antonio Shenault) and reduced the recommended punishment for one more (dropping an expulsion to a one-year suspension for Carlton Djam).

"I think the process needs to be overhauled," Pacyga said. "It was greatly concerning and any parent ought to be concerned if their student is accused of a Title IX violation, and especially sexual misconduct at the University of Minnesota."

It stems from allegations made in September by a woman who said she was pressured into having sex with multiple football players. Authorities declined to press charges in the case and the players who did have sex with the woman say it was consensual. The school launched its own investigation, and a report by the Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action department determined that the 10 players violated the student conduct code.

The players got a two-day appeal hearing last week to argue their case. Pacyga said the players were pressured into speaking with the Title IX investigator and threatened that they could not practice until they did. And several of the players testified Friday that some of the comments that were attributed to them in the report were inaccurate. He also said the panel was not allowed to see a 90-second video that police officers reviewed that he claims proves the woman consented to sex with at least two of the players and the players also were denied individual hearings and instead were grouped together, despite the fact that five players were not accused of having any sexual contact with the woman.

"You walk into them and the deck is stacked against you if you're an accused student in these hearings," Pacyga said.

The university has declined to comment on the process or the decisions, citing federal privacy laws.

All parties involved have until Friday to appeal the panel's ruling to the provost. That decision could then be appealed to federal court. Pacyga said that could include asking for financial damages, if the players make that decision.

"We want to make sure they go through the proper channels so they don't lose any appeals rights," Pacyga said. "Then we'll see if the federal court can give them some relief."