A group of nine University of Minnesota football players involved in a sexual assault case are now suing the school, alleging racial and gender discrimination.

According to a report from the StarTribune, the nine players, who are black, say their civil rights were violated during the school’s investigation into an alleged 2016 gang rape of a female student.

The lawsuit charges that the university “willfully and maliciously” scapegoated the players through a biased investigation that deprived the players of their right to due process.

In a statement Friday the university said it would vigorously defend its handling of the case.

“The University thoughtfully and thoroughly responds when faced with disturbing allegations, and provides extensive process to students accused of misconduct, including the opportunity to be heard during thorough investigations, panel hearings, and Provost review,” the statement said. “Further, aggrieved students have a right to review by the Minnesota Court of Appeals.”

No criminal charges were filed in the 2016 case, which involved 10 football players in all. Five students were expelled or suspended for violating the student conduct code. The others were cleared on appeal.

According to the lawsuit, the football players suffered “severe emotional distress and financial damage” as a result of being “cast as sex offenders.”

“Once you’re part of something like this, it doesn’t go away,” said David Madgett, the players’ attorney. “You’re certainly guilty in the eyes of the public, even if ultimately never charged.”

Madgett also said the university did a “masterful job of fact manipulation,” alleging that the school ignored evidence, such as text messages and videos that didn’t support the allegations.

The players’ lawyers will now be tasked with the heavy burden of proving in court that the university knowingly and willfully discriminated against the men on the basis of race and gender. “Race discrimination also played a central role,” according to the lawsuit, alleging that black players were used as scapegoats “to deflect criticism the University was facing for having previously turned a blind eye to charges of sexual harassment by white males in the University Athletics Department.” 

The lawsuit seeks unspecified damages.

Andy Berg is Executive Editor of Athletic Business.