Former Hawkeye football players accuse University of Iowa of delaying race discrimination trial

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Like many of his teammates, Iowa Hawkeyes running back Akrum Wadley doesn’t enter the stadium without his headphones. (Stephen Mally/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — More than a year after 13 former Hawkeye football players filed a lawsuit accusing some University of Iowa athletics staff of racially motivated discrimination and harassment, attorneys charge the UI of “persistent and intentional subversion” and delaying tactics and ask a judge to intervene.

Specifically, the players want a U.S. District Court judge to compel UI to hand over reports of an independent review produced in 2020 of four key staff members: head coach Kirk Ferentz, offensive coordinator Brian Ferentz, assistant defensive coordinator Seth Wallace and former strength and conditioning coach. Chris Doyle.

Players also want key financial documents; performance evaluations; cell phone records; arrangements with the external law firm Husch Blackwell LLP, which conducted the external review; and relevant communications – such as between UI and the Jacksonville Jaguars or Coach Urban Meyer regarding Doyle, who UI paid $1.1 million to as part of a separation agreement in June 2020 following accusations of racist and degrading behavior.

“The parties have now repeatedly extended discovery deadlines and plaintiffs can no longer wait for defendants to produce good faith documents,” according to a motion filed by the players last week asking a judge to intervene.

“Defendants’ litigation tactics should not be allowed to continue, lest they hypnotize this litigation into a state of inertia in which plaintiffs await further documentation on which defendants maintain a stranglehold.”

In the absence of the documents they requested, lawyers for the players said they had been forced to postpone depositions from Kirk and Brian Ferentz, which had already been rescheduled for January 18 and 19 after being delayed until at the end of the football season – due to scheduling burdens and conflicts.

“Plaintiffs respectfully request that the Court order Defendants to immediately produce all documents responsive to Plaintiffs’ requests and to award attorneys’ fees and costs incurred as a result of Defendants’ discovery misconduct,” according to the statement. recent request from players.

Other subpoenas

Due to players’ frustration with UI delays in delivering documents, their attorneys in December circumvented UI by subpoenaing cases directly from the Big Ten Conference, NCAA and Husch Blackwell.

“The plaintiffs have waited patiently but need judicial intervention,” according to the players’ petitions. “The plaintiffs fear further delays apparently intended to push the parties into the next football season.”

The subpoena for Kansas City-based Husch Blackwell — whom UI “retained” in 2020 to conduct an “independent” review of alleged racial disparities within the Hawkeye football program — demanded, among other things, details related to the findings that the company has made public via a summary. report in July 2020.

Specifically, they demanded all documentation related to accusations of staff abuse, verbal abuse, racism and intimidation of players that were set out in the report, which found that “the rules of the program perpetuated the racial or cultural prejudices and diminished the value of cultural diversity.

“The program monitored players to the point that they felt heightened anxiety and maintained a culture that allowed a small group of coaches to put players down,” according to the public report. “We have separately provided four staff reports to the university summarizing the allegations of abuse made against current and former employees so that they can be addressed, as appropriate, in accordance with the institution’s personnel policies and procedures. “

In addition to demanding those reports, the prosecuting players want all emails, text messages or other written communications from nine key football or athletics department staff – or anyone else – who used one. a long list of player names or keywords, including racial epithets and swear words.

But in a January 5 email from one of the players’ lawyers to Husch Blackewll, he makes it clear that the law firm refuses to comply.

“From what I understand from our discussion today, despite multiple public statements from the University of Iowa (“Iowa”) that Husch Blackwell (“Husch”) has been hired to conduct an “independent investigation” and Husch’s July 2020 report specifically stating that Husch was asked to “impartially review” Iowa’s football program, Husch’s position is that the services provided to Iowa were not independent, but done within a traditional attorney-client relationship,” according to the email.

“As a result, Husch’s position is the attorney-client privilege attached to the relationship between Husch and Iowa.”

Although the players requested the Husch documents months ago, UI only began claiming attorney-client privilege in December, according to court documents.

“In a Hail Mary effort to shield themselves from liability, the defendants seek to block the plaintiffs from uncovering the full truth by claiming that the investigation they previously described as ‘independent’ was in fact conducted as part of a ‘a traditional attorney-client relationship’, according to the players’ lawyers.

Privacy issues

In response to a request for documents showing that Doyle discriminated against, intimidated, belittled or harassed players, UI’s lawyers claimed that these allegations “have been dismissed and therefore no documentation exists to substantiate such allegations”.

“Defendants want plaintiffs (and this court) to maintain an alternate reality in which decision makers have not yet acknowledged responsibility for the racial harassment that caused harm,” according to attorneys for the players. “In the multiverse of their own creation, the defendants attempt to rewrite history.”

In objecting to or failing to produce documents, unemployment insurance attorneys from the state attorney general’s office cited privacy laws, such as the family education rights and privacy protections, or they said “reactive material collection is ongoing.”

In a Dec. 10 letter to the players’ attorneys, Assistant Attorney General Jeffrey Peterzalek said the state has permission to produce the requested documents through Sept. 13, 2022, and that UI is “doing its best to bring together all the relevant documents”.

“However, with the bowling game on hold, the football season is still ongoing and presents additional challenges to this gathering process.”

But players claim they can’t move forward in their investigation process without the UI’s cooperation.

“Plaintiffs never agreed to continued production and defendants never sought court permission to do so,” lawyers for the players argued in court documents filed last week. “Yet they continue to produce documents as they please, consistently failing to produce documents on the dates promised or agreed upon.”

A status conference in the case is scheduled for February 23. A jury trial is scheduled for 10 days in March 2023.

Vanessa Miller covers higher education for The Gazette.

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