UPDATED: Former UI women's basketball players file suit

UPDATED: Former UI women's basketball players file suit

Seven former Illini women’s basketball players have sued the University of Illinois, alleging coach Matt Bollant and former assistant Mike Divilbiss created a racially hostile environment in violation of the Federal Civil Rights Act. 

Here is a copy of the suit.

The suit, filed in federal court in Urbana on Wednesday morning, names Bollant, Divilbiss, athletic director Mike Thomas and the university board of trustees as defendants and seeks $10 million in damages.

Chancellor Phyllis Wise responded to the allegations in an email Wednesday afternoon.

"The external review is continuing, so it is disappointing that legal action has preceded the findings," Wise said. "We will review the lawsuit and determine an appropriate response. I cannot stress enough that any time we learn that a student feels the experience at Illinois isn't excellent, we take those concerns seriously. We intended that through the external review process the student-athletes and their families would help us better understand their concerns and perceptions."

Wise said the athletic department has added additional staff to monitor the program and help give students an outlet for their concerns. 

The players named in the suit are Amarah Coleman, Taylor Gleason, Jacqui Grant, Sarah Livingston, Nia Oden, Alexis Smith and Taylor Tuck.

According to the suit, during the 2013-14 and 14-15 women’s basketball seasons, Bollant and Divilbiss created a racially hostile environment through segregation and separate treatment of players by race.

Among the allegations: 

— Coaches held segregated practices

— Coaches prohibited white players from rooming with black players on road trips

— When the Illini played predominantly black teams, the coaches asked the black players what they thought the other team was going to do. When the Illini played predominantly white teams, the coaches asked the white players.

— The coaches called predominantly black teams “undisciplined and unintelligent” while referring to predominantly white teams as “disciplined and intelligent. 

— Calling one or more of the black plaintiffs unintelligent, undisciplined and “west-side ghetto.”

— Coaches held more severe discipline for black players and white players despite similar conduct.

— The coaches encouraged or helped the “favored” white players improve when they played poorly, while black players and white teammates who associated with them were “insulted, denigrated, demeaned, demoralized and/or embarrassed” if they made mistakes. The coaches also addressed the players in a denigrating manner in team meetings and practices. The conduct was designed to coerce the plaintiffs to quit the team, surrender their scholarships or transfer, the lawsuit said.

The lawsuit is the second filed against the university in a recent string of allegations of mistreatment spanning the women’s basketball, football and soccer teams. Former Illini soccer player Casey Conine filed a lawsuit on June 8 in circuit court, alleging the medical staff mishandled treatment of a concussion.

Parents of players named in the suit declined comment on advice of their attorney. When reached by The News-Gazette, Divilbiss also declined comment.

Athletic department officials said current players will not be available for interviews.

The suit alleges the university violated Title VI of the Federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, which says institutions that receive Federal financial assistant — like the University of Illinois — cannot discriminate based on race, color or national origin.

In April, the parents of three players brought the allegations to the attention of university officials, and there was an internal investigation that found no violations of laws, NCAA rules or university policy. However, after the investigation ended, Divilbiss and the program “agreed to part ways” on May 14.

Following the internal investigation, the parents of seven players — the same seven named in the lawsuit — sent a letter to university officials May 21 saying they were disappointed with the way the investigation was handled. 

On May 26, the university hired Chicago law firm Pugh, Jones & Johnson to look into the allegations. The university separately hired law firm Franczek Radelet to look into allegations of medical mistreatment.

Frank Cvijanovic, the father of Simon Cvijanovic, a football player who alleged mistreatment by the medical staff, declined comment because the family is currently seeking legal counsel.

Prominent Chicago defense attorney Terry Ekl is representing the players. In the past, Ekl has represented professional athletes, such as Derrick Rose, Starlin Castro, Denis Sevard, Chris Chelios and Ed Olczyk. In 2012, Ekl won a civil rights suit representing Karolina Obrycka against the Chicago Police Department saying the police often covered up officer misconduct. 

He also represented John Harris, the former chief of staff to Gov. Rod Blagojevich, in allegations relating to Blagojevich attempting to sell Barack Obama’s senate seat. 

Ekl played college football at Northwestern and went to law school at the University of Illinois.

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GeneralLeePeeved wrote on July 01, 2015 at 2:07 pm

Regardless of the outcome, the perception of Bollant in recruiting circles will most likely be damaged beyond repair.   If the University cares about being competitive in women's basketball, he, too, will have to be dismissed. 

1970s wrote on July 01, 2015 at 4:07 pm

I am an alum and became a season ticket holder for football when Bob Blackman was the coach... also following other Illini major sports over the years. I gave up season tickets for Fball in Zooks last year out of frustration and disappointment. The dramas going on with this womens program and the Fball program this spring/summer have just confirmed my disappointments. I want to be loyal!!! but have pretty much had it!! I travel quite a bit and am tired of bringing up my universuty to people from other states who just laugh and make fun of our sports programs. I used to call in to Turpin and Tates shows to discuss my thoughts, but if I dared to voice some view they did not agree with a verbal on air tirade is what I received... so I gave that up a few years ago also. This University seems to be controlled by the good old rich boys club. (for example most of the stadium upgrades dealt with ways to separate the rich folks from the common fans all the way to private elevators). I am sure many will disagree with me on these thoughts, but facts seem to bear out some of the truth in what I have said and seen over the years. I keep checking this site about once a month to look for some "good news"... but rarely find it.

Joe American wrote on July 01, 2015 at 3:07 pm

"Coaches prohibited white players from rooming with black players on road trips"

I'm not sure when this was alleged to have happened, but had you seen the team a few years ago? I think they had either one or two white players total. Maybe that fact alone is enough for a reverse discrimination lawsuit.

DaisyJ wrote on July 01, 2015 at 5:07 pm

More than likely this will also take down Thomas...and that will be no big loss.

Illinifan2000 wrote on July 01, 2015 at 10:07 pm

Enough. Enough. Enough. 

Why are Mike Thomas & Matt Bollant & LaKale Malone & Tianna Kirkland still employed at the University of Illinois and all driving around in university owned vehicles?

Enough. 

When did their "vision" become more succinct than the vision of this great institution. This is just embarrassing on a national stage. 

Enough. 

Now we're going to pay for all of their legal fees to defend each of them in a federal, not state, federal civil rights lawsuit. 

Enough. 

President Killeen needs to use that broom that the one parent letter referred to and sweep clean all of these people, none of them who have the slightest clue or loyalty to OUR University of Illinois. 

Enough. 

 

BruckJr wrote on July 02, 2015 at 8:07 am

Malone and Kirkland are not a part of the suit so there are no legal fees for them.  Unfortunately, they'll be let go once Bollant and Thomas are.

Illinifan2000 wrote on July 01, 2015 at 10:07 pm

Enough. Enough. Enough. 

Why are Mike Thomas & Matt Bollant & LaKale Malone & Tianna Kirkland still employed at the University of Illinois and all driving around in university owned vehicles?

Enough. 

When did their "vision" become more succinct than the vision of this great institution? This is just embarrassing on a national stage. 

Enough. 

Now we're going to pay for all of their legal fees to defend each of them in a federal, not state, federal civil rights lawsuit. 

Enough. 

President Killeen needs to use that broom that the one parent letter referred to and sweep clean all of these people, none of them who have the slightest clue or loyalty to OUR University of Illinois. 

Enough. 

Wake up Illini! Stop donating until the integrity of the Athletic Department and all of its team sports are restored. Stop donating! 

Enough. 

 

Illinifan2000 wrote on July 01, 2015 at 10:07 pm

1970s comment is 100% spot on...

Forget the private elevators. This is Champaign. 

We need integrity restored on the floors and on the fields.

Go Illini! 

 

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