Women begin appeal of Colorado lawsuit's dismissal

Updated: April 21, 2006, 5:03 PM ET
Associated Press

DENVER -- Attorneys for two women who sued the University of Colorado alleging they were raped by football players and recruits took the first step Friday in appealing the dismissal of their case.

Attorneys for the women had promised they would appeal after U.S. District Judge Robert Blackburn refused to revive the case in March. Blackburn had said earlier the women failed to prove their claims enough to require a trial.

"The plaintiffs are really looking forward to the opportunity to have their case heard," attorney Kimberly Hult said.

Attorney Dan Reilly, who represents the university, said Blackburn wrote "not one but two well-reasoned and well-supported decisions dismissing this case'' and predicted the appeals court would rule the same way.

The women argued that Colorado violated federal Title IX gender-equity law by fostering an atmosphere that led to their alleged assaults at an off-campus party in 2001. Police investigated, but no sexual assault charges were filed.

In his March order, Blackburn said that despite new evidence showing Colorado coaches and trainers might have known about sexual assault and harassment problems before the alleged assaults, the women still had not shown they could prove violations of Title IX.

"There is no doubt that some of the harassment, abuse and assaults reflected in the record are shameful at best and criminal at worst," the judge wrote.

"A cry for justice, however, does not mean that Title IX should be expanded to provide justice simply because the cry for justice has not been answered otherwise."

Blackburn has said the plaintiffs failed to prove the school had knowledge of sexual harassment of female students by football players and recruits. He also said they didn't show the school was deliberately indifferent to any known sexual harassment. Both standard must be met to sue a public university under Title IX.

One of the plaintiffs, Lisa Simpson, has agreed to be publicly identified but the other has not. The Associated Press does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault unless they agree.

Friday's filing is the first step toward the case being heard by the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver. A hearing there could be months away.

Hult and another attorney for the plaintiffs, Baine Kerr, said in a statement they would be helped in the appeal by Stanford Law School associate dean Pamela Karlan and Patricia Wald, a former chief judge for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia.

The lawsuit erupted into a football recruiting scandal that led to the resignations of several CU officials over allegations that the football program used sex and alcohol to entice top recruits. Since early 2002, the school has seen the resignations of President Betsy Hoffman, Boulder campus Chancellor Richard Byyny, athletic director Dick Tharp and football coach Gary Barnett.

A grand jury investigation resulted in only one indictment in which a former football recruiting aide pleaded guilty to charges of soliciting a prostitute and official misconduct.

A separate investigation backed by the CU Board of Regents concluded that drugs, alcohol and sex were used to lure blue-chip recruits to Boulder but said none of the activity was knowingly sanctioned by university officials.

The school responded by overhauling oversight of the athletics department and putting some of the most stringent policies in place for any football recruiting program.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press