HUNTINGTON, Ind. — The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana in Fort Wayne has dismissed the Title IX claim in the lawsuit brought forward by former Huntington University cross country and track runners.
In the court’s ruling, filed Monday in federal court, Holly Brady, the chief judge for the United States District Court for the Northern District of Indiana stated the plaintiffs have not “plausibly pled facts that could establish ‘actual notice’ by an ‘appropriate person’ as Title IX requires.”
According to previous reports, the athletes claimed they were doped, sexually assaulted and raped by former coach Nicholas Johnson, and that school officials, as well as other coaches, allowed it to happen.
The athletes claimed that Johnson, along with his wife, used an illegal performance-enhancing doping program for the athletes. They also claim that Johnson sexually assaulted the athletes by performing massages, or “treatments” on them and sexually assaulting them.
In 2020, Johnson was charged with two counts of child seduction, kidnapping and identity deception. In 2022, he pleaded guilty to identity deception and served 30 days in jail and two years of home detention. He was also fired as Huntington University’s coach.
“Plaintiffs allege that Johnson subjected (the athletes) to a hostile environment while they were athletes at the university,” the documents read. “Johnson subjected (the athletes) to assault, unwanted touching and advances including graphic sexual conversations that male athletes did not endure. Johnson also provided infusions and injections of unknown substances to female team members but did not provide these treatments to male athletes.”
The ruling read that the university defendants may not be held vicariously liable under Title IX for an employee’s violation of the statute. But, they could be held personally liable under the statute if the university defendants had notice of, and acted “deliberately indifferent to,” the misconduct.
The university defendants argued in federal court that the athletes did not “plausibly allege facts that, if true would support an inference that an ‘appropriate person’ received actual notice of the alleged ongoing sexual and doping abuse.” Officials stressed that actual notice means witnessing an incident or receiving a report of an incident.
In the lawsuit, Brady said that none of the athletes alleged that they reported Johnson’s conduct to any “appropriate person” at the university. While they say that officials knew various things, including Johnson’s wife and an assistant coach, Brady said that the athletes assumed that the university had knowledge of the wrongdoing, asserting that “any reasonable administrator’ should have known of Johnson’s misconduct.”
“(The athletes) are granted leave to file an amended complaint if they believe they can allege facts that plausibly support their Title IX claim,” the ruling read. “The Title IX claim is dismissed with plaintiffs granted until Dec. 6, 2023, to file a second amended complaint. Absent a timely amendment, the case, in its entirety, will be dismissed…”
The additional claims brought forward in the lawsuit, including 22 state law claims, will also be dismissed in federal court. However, Brady said the claims are dismissed “without prejudice to refiling in state court.”