UPDATED: Former UI women's basketball players file suit


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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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