Federal judge guts tennis players’ lawsuits against Wright State

Federal judge guts tennis players’ lawsuits against Wright State

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A federal judge all but totally dismissed two lawsuits against Wright State University brought by former men’s tennis team members who alleged they did not get due process before being expelled from the university.

U.S. District Court Judge Walter Rice ruled all the federal claims against WSU brought by Diego Venegas and Marc Sodini and a separate lawsuit by a “John Doe” should be dismissed. Rice ruled a state claim could be re-filed in common pleas court.

All three former team members had sued last year in Dayton’s U.S. District Court, alleging that the school violated due process rights during an investigation into sexual misconduct claims.

“We’re disappointed in this decision,” said Doe’s attorney, Josh Engel, “and we’re considering whether we are going to appeal or act otherwise.”

Nine of 11 men’s tennis team members — including all three plaintiffs — were expelled from school, causing the Raiders to not field a team in spring 2016.

Complaints made against the dismissed students included a hazing practice that involved poking teammates in the rectum, which was called a culture of “mutual horseplay and banter.”

The allegations in the lawsuits appear to explain why on Jan. 21, 2016 the school abruptly canceled its spring 2016 men’s tennis season because many players had reportedly violated the code of student conduct.

Two members of the tennis team claimed that during the fall 2015 semester, as they got on a bus after meets, the older members of the team, including Doe, would “digitally penetrate their anus through their clothing.”

Doe denied the poking allegations. Doe “acknowledged that there was “horsing around” by the team, but denied that there was any hazing or other objectionable or inappropriate conduct.”

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Engel said his case was effectively dismissed.

“It’s fair to say that the door that Judge Rice left open is a very small and narrow door or hallway that any of the plaintiffs are able to walk through,” Engel said.

Engel said he disagrees with Rice’s assessment that Wright State acted properly despite not allowing his client to confront the accusers.

“This decision seems to be contrary to the decision by Judge (Michael) Barrett in a case involving Miami University that dealt with a very similar situation and it turned out the other way,” Engel said of a case he brought in Cincinnati’s U.S. District Court.

Engel also said a similar case involving a University of Cincinnati student is being decided by the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals.

A Wright State spokesman and an attorney for Venegas and Sodini did not respond to messages seeking comment. WSU officials have said they don’t comment on pending litigation.

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