SAN FRANCISCO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--In March 2020, three former student-athletes filed a class action lawsuit against the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA), the NCAA Board of Governors, and John Rembao, the former track and cross-country coach at the University of Arizona, University of Texas-Austin and other NCAA universities. Filed on behalf of the students by the law firms Fegan Scott and Lieff Cabraser Heimann & Bernstein, LLP in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the complaint alleges that the NCAA put student-athletes at all NCAA member schools in harm's way by failing to prohibit sexual abuse, sexual harassment, or sexual contact between coaches and student-athletes, and by permitting coaches accused of sexual abuse to move unfettered between NCAA schools.
The plaintiffs' complaint further alleges that the NCAA facilitated a national epidemic by perpetuating a cycle of sexual abuse—like that seen in the Catholic Church—because it chose not to implement rules or impose any sanctions that would require schools to take steps to prevent and report abuse by coaches and deter perpetrators.
Judge Davila was forthright in highlighting the seriousness and import of the case: “The seriousness of the issue before the Court cannot be overstated. In recent years, it has become clear that sexual assault on college campuses is a pervasive problem. Of course, as Larry Nassar demonstrated, sexual assault on college campuses is not limited to peer-to-peer assault; it also occurs between coaches and their athletes. This case focuses on that latter type of sexual assault and addresses the National Collegiate Athletic Association's responsibility (if any) to prevent sexual misconduct by collegiate coaches."
Rembao argued that the plaintiffs' claims were time-barred by the relevant statutes of limitations. Plaintiffs disagreed, maintaining that various tolling doctrines prevent the court from finding that the abuse claims were time-barred. In an Order dated September 3, 2020, U.S. District Judge Edward J. Davila denied Rembao's motion to dismiss the case, noting that, "fairness may dictate that the relevant statutes of limitations should be tolled," and that, "[T]he injustice arising from a refusal to toll the statutes of limitations would be great."
"Rembao's violations of his power and the abused students' bodies and rights were outrageous, as Rembao continually used the coach-athlete dynamic to his advantage—threatening to strip them of their scholarships and insisting on 'closed-door' meetings—behavior that was, in effect, sanctioned by the NCAA because of its lack of regulations to protect student-athletes from such misconduct," notes FeganScott founding partner and managing member Beth Fegan, who also represents the plaintiffs. "We are gratified that the ordered change in venue as to the NCAA defendants preserves the plaintiffs' claims against them and look forward to litigating these claims on behalf of our clients there."
Judge Davila further found that plaintiffs had adequately pled cognizable false imprisonment claims (relating to Rembao's alleged practice of confining abused students in his office and home on multiple occasions, often in small, enclosed spaces). The Judge directed the plaintiffs to file a second amended complaint by September 30th, 2020, limiting their claims to Rembao's conduct, and transferred the NCAA action to the Southern District of Indiana.
"All too often, sexual abusers use their positions of power to convince victims that what's being done to them is normal – that the abuser did nothing wrong," notes Lieff Cabraser partner Jonathan D. Selbin, who represents the plaintiffs in the litigation. "Today's ruling is an important recognition that the law, like society, must recognize the fact that this conduct is not normal, and that victims may not always be in a position to know or understand that they have been violated at the time of the abuse."
The lawsuit seeks immediate adoption of clear and best practices around coach-student relationships, and compensation for those who were subjected to abuse as a result of the NCAA's failures to employ such practices.