July 1, 2015 / 10:05 PM / 2 years ago

Former University of Illinois women basketball players file suit against school

(Reuters) - Seven former players from the University of Illinois women’s basketball team on Wednesday filed a federal lawsuit that accuses the school’s head coach and a former assistant of creating a racially hostile environment.

The former players are asking for $10 million in damages from the university in the racial discrimination lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Urbana, Illinois, which accuses head coach Matt Bollant and former assistant coach Mike Divilbiss of violating their civil rights.

The lawsuit said the coaches routinely called black players “dogs,” “toxic” and “crabs” while racially segregating practices and travel accommodations in the last two basketball seasons.

The coaches are also accused of disciplining black players more harshly than white teammates and embarrassing and demeaning white players who associated or defended black players.

The coaches labeled black players as “unintelligent, undisciplined ‘west-side ghetto’ street-ball players on account of their race and stereotyping a community of origin,” the lawsuit said.

The players accuse athletic director Mike Thomas of knowing about the infractions and taking no steps to address them. Divilbiss resigned in May after several of the players’ families called on the university to investigate.

Bollant and Divilbiss were not immediately available for comment.

University of Illinois Chancellor Phyllis Wise said on Wednesday an investigation into the allegations is ongoing.

“I cannot stress enough that any time we learn that a student feels the experience at Illinois isn’t excellent, we take those concerns seriously,” Wise said in a statement.

She said athletic staff has been added to closely monitor team activities and the department has implemented additional ways for athletes to report any concerns.

Five of the players quit the team and two graduated after the 2014-15 season in which the team’s record was 15-16.

Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Eric Beech

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