Woman sues Wisconsin over reinstatement of former football player Quintez Cephus

A University of Wisconsin student has sued the school, alleging she was discriminated against when it readmitted a football player after finding him responsible for violating the school's misconduct policy by sexually assaulting her.

The woman alleges the university violated her due process rights by not following a proper appeals process that resulted in now-former football player Quintez Cephus being readmitted, according to the lawsuit filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin. The lawsuit states the university did not adequately notify her about, or give her an opportunity to participate in, the appeal. Neither the woman nor Cephus are named in the lawsuit.

The woman and another woman told the university and police in 2018 that Cephus sexually assaulted them when they were too intoxicated to consent in April of that year. Wisconsin expelled Cephus following a Title IX investigation that found he violated the school's non-academic misconduct code.

The Dane County district attorney charged Cephus with second- and third-degree sexual assault, and a jury acquitted him in August 2019. After the trial, Wisconsin overturned its ruling and readmitted him that same month. The school said it "obtained information following the criminal proceeding that was not provided to the university" during its own investigation, according to a statement at the time.

While criminal convictions require proof beyond a reasonable doubt, U.S. Department of Education rules allow a lower standard to find someone responsible in a school's Title IX investigation.

The university didn't elaborate about what information it had received when it announced its decision to reinstate Cephus. According to the lawsuit, the information included text messages and notes from Cephus' lawyer's closing argument.

The lawsuit alleges the university rushed its decision to reverse its finding because of public and internal pressure to reinstate Cephus on the football team ahead of the upcoming season after he was found not guilty in the criminal trial.

"As a UW student, [the woman] thereafter suffered from a highly hostile educational environment where she was forced to walk to class in fear of running into [Cephus]," the lawsuit states.

A spokeswoman for the university said Tuesday that the school is aware of the lawsuit but hasn't reviewed it, and that the school doesn't comment on litigation.

In October 2019, the two women filed a civil rights complaint against Wisconsin with the U.S. Department of Education. Their complaint alleges that the university violated the Clery Act, a federal law regulating student safety measures, by not giving them a chance to take part in Cephus' reinstatement. According to the department's online database, it has not opened an investigation into the women's complaint.

When he was readmitted, Cephus' attorneys and supporters claimed a victory over a system they say initially violated his due process rights. Cephus filed a lawsuit against Wisconsin in October 2018, alleging he couldn't participate in the school's Title IX investigation without potentially harming his criminal defense, and the school wouldn't postpone its process. He withdrew the lawsuit in March 2019.

In an emailed statement in November, Stephen Meyer, an attorney for Cephus, wrote, "In light of the overall available evidence after the trial, the UW's decision to re-admit Mr. Cephus was simply the right thing to do. This decision by the UW avoided wrongly taking a second year of Mr. Cephus's life." Meyer did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday.

Cephus announced earlier this year he would skip his senior season at Wisconsin to enter the 2020 NFL draft. He was selected by the Detroit Lions and signed with them in July.