Settlement talks fail in Plainfield high school football hazing lawsuit case

No settlement was reached in a 2021 federal lawsuit case where two former Plainfield Central High School football team members claimed they were sexually assaulted as part of a hazing ritual called Code Blue.

The failed settlement represents the latest development in a case that was first filed Aug. 23, 2021, against Plainfield School District 202 and three football coaches. Last spring, a federal judge dismissed most of the claims in a second amended lawsuit from attorneys representing the former players.

The case will now head for a status hearing Jan. 11. No trial date has been set.

The 2021 lawsuit was filed by two former Plainfield Central High School football team members known only as Doe Child A and Doe Child B. The lawsuit alleges they were sexually assaulted by other players in a locker room Oct. 17, 2019, at Plainfield Central High School as part of “longstanding and prevalent hazing rituals and traditions” known as Code Blue.

Doe Child A and Doe Child B also claim district officials made no effort to prevent them from being subjected to the bullying, harassment and threats by their peers after the alleged sexual assaults.

On March 9, U.S. District Judge Charles Kocoras delivered a ruling that dismissed 12 of the 14 claims filed by attorneys for the players in a second amended lawsuit. Kocoras already had dismissed the first amended lawsuit on Jan. 19, 2022.

After the March 9 ruling, both parties engaged in settlement negotiations. A settlement conference took place Nov. 9, but both parties were “unable to reach a resolution to settle this case,” court records show.

The two claims that still remain in the case allege District 202 officials acted with deliberate indifference to the alleged sexual harassment toward Doe Child A and Doe Child B following their alleged sexual assault.

Email from Plainfield District 202 Superintendent Lane Abrell said the Plainfield Central High School administration was investigating a potential hazing situation within the football program. The school's assistant principal communicated with the football coach regarding a Snapchat message.

In Kocoras’ March 9 ruling, he said a reasonable jury could find that district officials’ failure to separate the assailants from Doe Child A and Doe Child B, their failure to discipline all the players involved in the assault, their failure to conduct an independent investigation and their failure to support the alleged victims “was clearly unreasonable in light of the circumstances.”

“Plaintiffs certainly face an uphill battle with this count, but for now they have alleged enough to get them out of the gate,” Kocoras said.

Elsewhere in Kocoras’ ruling, he said while attorneys for Doe Child A and Doe Child B allege that Code Blue was a well-known tradition the district and coaches allowed to continue unchecked, there are “simply no allegations to back these conclusory claims up.”

“Conclusions aside, there are no facts that plausibly suggest the district was on notice that its students’ constitutional rights were being violated,” Kocoras said.

In 2019, four Plainfield Central students were charged with battery in connection with the incident after a Plainfield police investigation. The juvenile cases were “expunged in accordance with Illinois juvenile law,” police said.

Plainfield police officials have said investigators “determined the initial allegation of a ‘hazing incident’ does not meet the statutory definition of hazing ... as it was not part of an induction process and no bodily harm occurred.” The investigation also apparently yielded “no evidence of a sex crime,” police said.

Last year, Will County State’s Attorney spokeswoman Carole Cheney said there was “no new investigation in this matter.”