Illinois reaches a settlement with former women’s basketball student-athletes
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign reached a proposed agreement with former women’s basketball student-athletes who had filed a lawsuit against the university. The students alleged racial discrimination and mistreatment that included verbal and emotional abuse from coaches. Associate coach Mike Divilbis left the program in May 2015 but head coach Mike Bollant remains at Illinois.
The families of three players (Jacqui Grant, Taylor Tuck and Taylor Gleason) sent detailed letters to former Illinois chancellor Phyllis Wise detailing their complaints last spring. Four other players were also involved in the lawsuit: Amarah Coleman, Alexis Smith, Nia Oden, Sarah Livingston.
In July, the players filed a $10 million federal lawsuit against the university. Illinois launched its own investigation into the complaints led by an external law firm but found no evidence to support the students’ claims announced Wise in early August 2014. [Full report of Illinois’ investigation (PDF)]
“The report does recommend actions for clarifying expectations regarding coaches’ conduct, better defining the coach-parent relationship and enhancing resources for student-athletes to report concerns or complaints about their experience at Illinois,” Wise explained. “We will begin implementing these recommendations immediately.”
Wise resigned from her post in mid-August after an embattled tenure that included other media firestorms including an email scandal and dismissal proceedings started by the university’s board of trustees.
The former women’s basketball players involved in this matter will receive a one-time settlement payment totaling $375,000 to be distributed among the group of seven plaintiffs. The proposed agreement, negotiated by attorneys for the university and the former players, requires the approval of the University of Illinois Board of Trustees.
The settlement will be paid with funds from the university’s self-insurance plan. Statements by the parties follow. DIA considers the matter closed, and no further comment will be provided.
University statement regarding agreement with former Women’s Basketball Players
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and seven former members of the women’s basketball program have reached a tentative agreement to resolve all pending claims against the university and former or current personnel. Under the terms of the resolution, which will be considered by the university’s Board of Trustees at its May 19 meeting, the former student-athletes will receive a one-time settlement payment of a total of $375,000 to be distributed among the group to fully and finally resolve all claims brought by Amarah Coleman, Alexis Smith, Taylor Tuck, Nia Oden, Sarah Livingston, Taylor Gleason and Jacqui Grant in Coleman, et al. v. Board of Trustees, et al. (United States District Court, Central District of Illinois). This sum includes payment of fees to the plaintiffs’ counsel, reflective of legal costs incurred by them.
The plaintiffs, former student-athletes in the women’s basketball program at the Urbana-Champaign campus, filed a four-count Complaint on July 1, 2015, asserting numerous claims, including discrimination and civil rights violations, and seeking monetary damages.
While the university sincerely apologizes for the events that resulted in the filing of this lawsuit, the settlement of this matter in no way constitutes an admission of wrongdoing on the part of the university. The university maintains that independent investigations concluded the evidence did not support the student-athletes’ grievances.
Interim Chancellor Barb Wilson’s quote: “We’re sorry that these students’ experiences at Illinois did not meet our high expectations. This agreement reflects our genuine hope that they are able to progress to successful careers and lives.”
Head Coach Matt Bollant’s quote: “I sincerely apologize that these players did not have the positive experiences we desire and expect. We will continue to enhance our program to ensure that all players are treated with respect and feel comfortable in communicating with our coaching staff and the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics.”
Terry A. Ekl made the following statement on behalf of the plaintiffs:
The former University of Illinois Women’s Basketball Players who brought forth this lawsuit are pleased to announce that the case has been settled. The plaintiffs contend that the investigation done by the law firm hired by the university found that all of the incidents alleged in the lawsuit did take place. The suit was filed primarily to ensure that the circumstances which resulted in the legal action do not occur in the future. As part of the negotiations in this case, the university agreed to implement a number of actions going forward which should prevent a reoccurrence of the conduct alleged in this case. Those actions are as follows:
- The university has established a code of conduct for all coaches regarding their interaction with players.
- The university has appointed a compliance officer to ensure compliance with the coaches’ code of conduct.
- The university has enhanced its efforts to inform student-athletes concerning the resources available to them for reporting and seeking assistance should problems exist with a coach.
- Enhanced racial sensitivity training for coaches and staff members.
The remedial actions are reflected in the written settlement documents as well. The former University of Illinois Women Basketball players would like to thank the current administration for their implementation of said actions.
Plaintiffs quote: “We are very happy to see that actions have been put in place so that no other student athlete may have to experience what we have. We believe the current administration has acted with the best interest of the student athlete and for that we are grateful.”
Despite the events which gave rise to this lawsuit, the former players believe that the current administration of the university has acted responsibly in their handling of the resolution of this matter. None of the women wish to make any other public statement. Any inquiries may be made to their attorney, Terry A. Ekl.