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Wednesday, April 24, 2024 | Back issues
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Cornhuskers Accused of Protecting Athlete

OMAHA (CN) — A track star sued the University of Nebraska, saying she was forced to leave school after reporting abuse by her athlete boyfriend.

Melissa Farrington sued the University and its Board of Regents on Wednesday in Federal Court. Farrington, a pentathlete, says the athletic department retaliated against her and canceled her scholarship after she reported domestic abuse by her athlete boyfriend.

Farrington finished seventh at the 2014 Big Ten championships as a freshman, according to the University of Nebraska's Huskers website. Her personal bests include 2:25.5 in the 800 meters, 19 feet 8 inches in the long jump and 5 feet 5 inches in the high jump.

She says the Cornhuskers system put her between a rock and a hard place, as it leaves the decision to prosecute and institute discipline up to the victim.

"Defendant had in place an inadequate disciplinary system which rather than protect the victim created an environment more likely to lead to retaliation by requiring the plaintiff to be a part of the decision to prosecute a fellow student and determine the punishment, all of which is contrary to the manner in which a domestic violence crime is prosecuted and punished by the state authorities to be lenient in the criminal context, as it causes undue pressure on the victim from friends and associates of the perpetrator," the complaint states.

Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, including domestic violence and sexual misconduct, in all schools that receive federal money. The University of Nebraska could lose federal funding if it is found to have violated the law.

Sexual violence on campus and schools' preferential treatment when it's committed by athletes has repeatedly made headlines in recent years, with Florida State University quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston a notable example.

Similar scandals alleging cover-ups led by school officials have occurred at the University of Oregon, the University of Tennessee, and Baylor University, among many others.

Farrington says in her lawsuit that an athletic department employee informed the university in March 2105 that she had been assaulted by a male student-athlete she was dating. University officials interviewed her that day and she confirmed the assault and participated fully in the investigation, she says.

But rather than protect her, she says, "Members of one of the defendant's men's varsity sports teams were instructed by employees and/or agents of the defendant not to associate with the plaintiff following said report, and she was effectively ostracized by other varsity athletes."

She says her own coaches treated her no better: "Plaintiff's athletic coaches became hostile towards her, created a hostile environment, and refused to renew her scholarship despite her excellent athletic performance, forcing her to have to seek out another school where she could participate in her sport in the weeks before the 2015/2016 academic year.

"Plaintiff's scholarship was eventually reinstated, but the initial non-renewal of the scholarship was detrimental to her. At least one of defendant's employees interfered with her attempts to obtain a scholarship at another university," the complaint states.

She did transfer schools, but lost a year's athletic scholarship, "resulting in economic damages of over $40,000," she says.

Farrington says the university breached its duty to protect victims of sexual violence.

"No reasonable female athlete would now come forward and report abuse within this system, which promulgated retaliation and exposed the victim to further harm," she says in the complaint.

In addition to her sports prowess, Farrington, a native of Australia, earned Academic All-Big Ten honors at Nebraska.

The University of Nebraska declined to comment.

Farrington's attorney Elisabeth Govaerts with Powers Law in Lincoln also declined comment.

Farrington seeks more than $40,000 in damages for retaliation and discrimination.

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