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Judge dismisses suit vs. Wisconsin over Cephus reinstatement

MADISON, Wis. (AP) A federal judge on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit alleging the University of Wisconsin System reinstated former Badgers receiver Quintez Cephus without seeking input from a woman who accused him of sexual assault in 2018.

A UW-Madison investigation found that Cephus likely assaulted her and the university expelled him in early 2019. A jury acquitted him of charges, however, and the school readmitted him. He rejoined the team for most of the 2019 season and is now a member of the Detroit Lions, who selected him in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL draft.

The woman sued in September 2020, alleging that the university shut her out of the reinstatement decision in violation of federal gender equity laws. U.S. District Judge William Conley ruled Tuesday that the woman didn't provide enough evidence that the laws were violated and that nothing required university officials to notify the woman of Cephus' reinstatement.

Conley said he was "sympathetic to plaintiff's hurt and distrust about the UW's sudden about-face" but added that "she has articulated no viable legal grounds for judicial relief under the circumstances."

In his ruling, Conley noted the decision to reinstate Cephus may have been driven by the school's desire to avoid a lawsuit or to get Cephus back on the field. But he also pointed out that nothing in the school's own procedures for ordering Cephus' reinstatement required the school to involve complainants in the readmission process.

Conley also said the woman hadn't provided any proof her harassment was so severe that it could deprive her to access to educational opportunities provided by the school. Conley noted that the woman graduated in under four years "with a good GPA."

"Though we are disappointed with the ruling, we appreciated many of the judge's comments and the finding that there was enough evidence for a jury to conclude that the UW was deliberately indifferent to sexual harassment," John Clune, an attorney for the woman, said via email. "The handling of this situation was at best highly suspect and the judge's order today hints at the same. Ultimately, she lost because she was strong enough to not let this derail her education."

Clune said an appeal is likely.

The lawsuit doesn't name Cephus, calling him Player 1, and refers to the woman as Jane Doe. The facts of the case are identical to those involving Cephus, however.

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Updated July 19, 2022

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