GREENEVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) — Two parents suing the Washington County Board of Education over alleged hazing by Daniel Boone High School football players are dropping the civil rights claims in the case and plan to move the remaining claims from federal to state court.
Two unidentified parents sued the school system in federal court Aug. 9 over alleged physical assault, sexual assault and sexual harassment perpetrated by multiple members of the football team during the 2022 season.
The claims included alleged violations of the federal Title IX and Title VI laws, in addition to alleged negligence by school and athletic staff under Tennessee’s Governmental Tort Liability Act.
Gary Blackburn, attorney for the plaintiffs, said due to limited relief available through the civil rights claims, his clients agreed to ask for dismissal of the case with the understanding the Tennessee claims will be immediately refiled in Washington County Circuit Court. A stipulation of dismissal filed in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Tennessee and signed by attorneys for both sides notes the state negligence claims will be refiled.
“We have a clear path in state court,” Blackburn told News Channel 11. “It’s not an abandonment of anything, it’s just a reposturing based on sort of legal tangles.”
Filed on behalf of athletes called “John Doe” and “John Roe,” the civil suit outlines a string of alleged abuses by multiple players between July and November 2022. It mentions video evidence of some assaults and claims hazing was longstanding such that “freshman players are expected to simply endure it as part of a humiliating and dangerous rite of passage.”
In its April 2022 “Cummings” case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that emotional distress damages aren’t recoverable under antidiscrimination statutes including Title VI and Title IX. That ruling limits the amount of relief that could be won in federal court cases like the hazing case.
A July 2022 article on the decision in a “Pillsbury Insights” article from law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman suggested that “it seems likely that plaintiffs alleging discrimination will increasingly focus on similar state and local provisions.”
Blackburn said the suit in Washington County would retain the general elements of the claims against the school system — that staff failed to adequately supervise athletes and negligently allowed the alleged hazing abuse to occur and continue.
“We’ll be able to do the amount of discovery that we want to do and so will they, and if it can’t be resolved we try the case,” Blackburn said, adding that if there is a trial it will be before a judge only and won’t involve a jury.
Washington County School Superintendent Jerry Boyd said the system hadn’t been updated by its attorney, Scott Bennett, but that it stood by its statement about the original lawsuit, when it said it couldn’t comment on the specific suit but added this:
“For our part, the Washington County Board of Education, its administrators, and its faculty and staff are dedicated to providing a safe, secure environment for all of our students. We are continuously working to improve our environment, and this lawsuit does not change that commitment.”