July 06, 2016

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Tennessee's $2.48 million settlement of a Title IX lawsuit regarding its handling of assault complaints against athletes includes steps on how the school must improve the way it addresses incidents involving sexual misconduct.

A copy of the settlement obtained through a public records request said the school will change its rules regarding student disciplinary hearings and will appoint an independent commission made up of individuals with expertise on establishing or maintaining federal law compliance programs.

The primary change in the hearing process would be that ''students will not be appointed to serve on student disciplinary hearing boards in cases involving allegations of sexual misconduct'' unless both sides agree.

The independent commission would recommend changes in the school's policies and programs related to preventing, investigating and resolving incidents of sexual misconduct.

The settlement also calls for Tennessee to use ''its best efforts to enforce mandatory sexual assault training'' for school employees reasonably likely to be among the first to learn about potential incidents.

Under the agreement, Tennessee also is no longer providing a written list of potential lawyers to athletes. Tennessee already had discontinued that policy before the settlement. The school may refer athletes to a local bar association instead.

Tennessee is paying $2.48 million to settle a lawsuit filed in Nashville by eight unidentified women who said the school had violated Title IX regulations and fostered a ''hostile sexual environment'' through a policy of indifference toward assaults by athletes. Lawyers for both the plaintiffs and the school issued a joint press release announcing the settlement Tuesday.

School officials discussed some of the steps being taken to help prevent sexual assaults and raise awareness of the issue Wednesday at a news conference featuring school Title IX coordinator Jenny Richter as well as Ashley Blamey, who directs the university's Center for Health Education and Wellness.

Seven employees are being added to the two offices that deal with sexual assault investigations and support for victims of sexual misconduct and stalking.

The new staff positions include two wellness coordinators who will work with athletes on sexual assault awareness as well as other issues such as drug and alcohol awareness and stress management.

''They will be working hard to find the best way to discover how to educate the group, how to work with them on a regular basis and really dedicate some resources to that area,'' Richter said.

The school is adding a senior deputy Title IX coordinator, two investigators of sexual misconduct plus an education and outreach coordinator and a sexual violence prevention coordinator for the school's Center for Health Education and Wellness to go along with the two new employees who will be working with athletes.

The chancellor's office is committing $700,000 to fund six of those positions and provide for training and other operational requirements. The Center for Health Education and Wellness' sexual violence prevention coordinator position is being funded for three years as part of a $300,000 federal grant.

And in a change in the school's process, allegations of sexual assault or misconduct will be investigated by the university's Office of Equity and Diversity. Investigations or student complaints in this regard previously had been conducted through the Office of Student Conduct.

''I continue to say that one incident of sexual misconduct is one too many,'' UT President Joe DiPietro said Tuesday in a release announcing the settlement.

''But unfortunately, on a college campus, these incidents will happen. When they do, I want the confidence of knowing that we did everything within our power to appropriately deal with the situation, and we provided the necessary support for all involved. There are no excuses for anything less.''

Tennessee's athletic department and the school's central administration are splitting the cost of the settlement. According to the settlement announcement, no taxpayer dollars, student fees or donor funds would be used to fund the settlement, and the funding instead will come ''from other income-generating activities within the university.''

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