Judge Brian Jackson, a federal judge of Louisiana’s middle district, dismissed the last lawsuit filed against LSU athletics.
That was 2013, and the plaintiff in that suit was Tony Minnis, former head coach of LSU’s women’s tennis program, and the first Black head coach in LSU history. After 21 seasons coaching the Tigers, Minnis’ relationship with then-Athletic Director Joe Alleva had soured. He alleged in his federal civil rights, employment discrimination lawsuit that Alleva had harassed him, retaliated against him and wrongfully fired him after years of providing of unequal pay and inadequate facilities.
Jackson decided that Minnis’ evidence didn’t back his claims and dismissed the lawsuit. Minnis declined to comment for this story.
After the Minnis suit, eight years came and went without a federal lawsuit against LSU athletics arriving on Jackson’s desk. But in 2021, two high-profile lawsuits in which LSU athletics employees are defendants were brought before the court in the wake of LSU’s Title IX and sexual assault scandal. This time, Jackson and the two other Baton Rouge federal judges — Shelly Dick and John deGravelles — recused themselves from ruling on either suit. The lawsuits then went to a fourth judge from New Orleans, Susie Morgan, who recused herself from one of the lawsuits. Morgan will rule on the other.
Judges “shall disqualify” themselves from presiding over lawsuits when their “impartiality might be reasonably questioned,” according to state law. Judges are not required to disclose a reason for a recusal. None of the four judges who recused could be reached for comment.
“I've never seen judges recuse themselves to this extent,” said Katherine Redmond, a sexual assault victims’ advocate.
Redmond has worked for over 20 years as a consultant and advisor to athletic departments and professional sports teams across the country, advising and training them on prevention and response to Title IX issues. She follows lawsuits filed against athletic departments to spot “trends” in schools’ choices of lawyers, consultants and advisors. The recusals in the LSU suits surprised Redmond.
“I’ve never seen that happen in my life,” she said.
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Jackson, Dick and deGravelles have all previously ruled on numerous suits in which LSU and its board of supervisors are parties. Dick currently presides over three LSU-related lawsuits: two job discrimination cases, one filed by an LSU Alexandria employee and the other by an LSU veterinary school professor. The third is for the fraternity hazing death of Max Gruver, which still has more court dates scheduled.
The two latest lawsuits are different from other lawsuits filed against the university in the last eight years in that athletics employees are parties. Common parties for both suits are Alleva, the LSU Board of Supervisors, former university president F. King Alexander, Executive deputy Athletic Director Verge Ausberry and Associate Athletic Directors Sharon Lewis and Miriam Segar.
Both Dick and Jackson have previously ruled on suits in which the Board of Supervisors and Alexander were parties. Jackson, in the Minnis suit, presided over one in which Alleva and Segar were parties. That leaves Lewis and Ausberry as the two shared parties who have not previously been involved in a middle district federal lawsuit.
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The plaintiff in the first lawsuit is Lewis, who is alleging that the university’s higher administration harassed and retaliated against her for years when she tried to report sexual misconduct in athletics and cry foul of the school’s Title IX practices. Lewis said some of the 20 defendants — most notably Alleva, Ausberry, Alexander, Les Miles and LSU AD Scott Woodward — violated the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO), a federal law designed to take down organized crime syndicates. Morgan gave Lewis and her attorneys 20 days from May 24 to answer a list of questions about how she plans to prove the RICO allegations.
Lewis is a defendant in the other notable lawsuit against the university and its athletic department, a class action suit filed by seven former students, athletes and athletic department student workers. The plaintiffs came forward in the past several months, alleging a campus-wide failure to respond to their reports of sexual assault, rape and domestic violence. The class action suit, which names over a dozen defendants, including Alleva, Ausberry, Alexander, Segar, the Tiger Athletic Foundation and Julia and Michael Sell, LSU women’s tennis coaches — now sits in the courtroom of Wendy Vitter, a federal judge in New Orleans.
Attorneys for plaintiffs are waiting for Vitter to approve the class, and for each defendant to retain counsel.