A Mississippi judge dismissed Ole Miss defensive tackle DeSanto Rollins’ lawsuit against coach Lane Kiffin on Wednesday, according to court documents.
The lawsuit, filed in September, alleged denial of equal protection, racial discrimination, sexual discrimination, violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and more.
Michael P. Mills, a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi, ordered the case closed. He dismissed Rollins’ Americans with Disabilities Act and negligence claims against the school and Kiffin without prejudice, meaning they could be refiled. Mills dismissed the remaining claims with prejudice.
Rollins, who didn’t play for the Rebels last season but is still listed on the team’s roster, alleged in the lawsuit that Kiffin kicked him off the team “because he requested to take a mental health break due to the anxiety, depression and mental stress he was suffering.” Rollins also said he suffered multiple injuries in 2022 that caused severe depression and anxiety and that the university failed to provide him with mental health educational materials.
The lawsuit alleged Kiffin intentionally took “adverse action” against Rollins, who is Black, “on account of race, for requesting and taking a mental health break, but not taking adverse action against white student-athletes for requesting and taking a mental health break.” It also alleged sexual discrimination for taking the same action against Rollins, “but not taking adverse action against female student-athletes.”
Rollins was seeking $10 million in compensatory damages and $30 million in punitive damages.
The school said in a statement at the time that Rollins “was never removed from the football team and remains on scholarship” and “continues to have the opportunity to receive all of the resources and advantages that are afforded a student-athlete at the university.”
Attorneys for Kiffin and the school subsequently filed for the case to be dismissed and argued that they were “immune” from some of the claims.
Mills wrote in Wednesday’s ruling that, “the evidence shows that it was up to Rollins when or if he resumed team activities — the decision was entirely his own.” Mills also wrote that Rollins’ claim that Kiffin treated him differently than White and female student-athletes “fails because he made no showing of discriminatory intent” and “he does not substantiate this further.”
“Because disparate treatment is not enough, these assertions alone do not establish that the intentional treatment was motivated by gender or racially-based discriminatory intent,” Mills wrote. “Nor does Rollins attempt to explain how any of these contentions support a plausible claim that defendants were so motivated.”
Mills’ decision stated: “Because Rollins has not alleged any facts that make it plausible that Kiffin’s actions were motivated by a discriminatory intent, he has not alleged the violation of a constitutional right and, therefore, has not overcome the defense of qualified immunity.
“The plaintiff’s remaining equal protection claim alleges that Kiffin subjected him to a hostile educational environment. This fails for the same reasons.”
According to the lawsuit, Rollins suffered multiple injuries in 2022 and, in November 2022, had an exit meeting with defensive line coach Randall Joyner, who pressured him to enter the transfer portal. Rollins did not transfer.
Rollins and Kiffin met in February 2023, shortly after Rollins’ grandmother died, and the coach told Rollins he was being moved from defensive tackle to the scout team on the offensive line because he would not transfer, according to the lawsuit.
“Kiffin yelled at Rollins in a hostile and verbally threatening tone telling him that he was the coach and Rollins was the player, and if he didn’t like it then he should quit,” the lawsuit stated.
Rollins told Kiffin he was going to take a mental health break “because of the verbal abuse from Kiffin and the mental anxiety, depression, and worthlessness he was feeling,” per the lawsuit. The next day, after his mother contacted an Ole Miss athletic trainer, Rollins met with Josie Nicholson, the assistant athletic director for sport psychology, who encouraged him to talk with the trainer about “taking a step back from football in order to take care of his mental health,” according to the lawsuit.
Joyner contacted Rollins in March 2023 to tell him Kiffin wanted to meet with him again, the lawsuit stated. Rollins had a follow-up session with Nicholson, but “did not want to meet with Kiffin yet “because he was not in a good place,” according to the suit. After the coaching staff and training staff continued to contact Rollins about it, he met with Kiffin on March 21, 2023, according to the lawsuit. Rollins legally recorded the meeting, and a transcript was included in the lawsuit.
Rollins told Kiffin he informed the strength and conditioning coach he was going to take a mental break, which is why he hadn’t shown up for two weeks, according to the lawsuit.
“OK, you have a f—ing head coach, this is a job, guess what, if I have mental issues and I’m not diminishing them, I can’t not see my f—ing boss,” Kiffin said, according to the lawsuit. “When you were told again and again the head coach needs to see you, wasn’t to make you practice, wasn’t to play a position you don’t f—ing want to, OK, it was to talk to you and explain to you in the real world, OK, so I don’t give a f— what your mom says, OK, or what you think is the real f—ing world you show up to work, and then you say hey I have mental issues, OK.”
The lawsuit alleged that Kiffin told Rollins he was off the team. “Go, go and guess what, we can kick you off the team, so go read your f—ing rights about mental health, we can kick you off the team, for not showing up, when the head coach asks to meet with you and you don’t show up for weeks, OK, we can remove you from the team.”
On Wednesday, Mills dismissed Rollins’ claim that Kiffin intentionally inflicted emotional distress, writing in part, “Although Kiffin’s conduct in the meetings was certainly offensive and imprudent, it is more akin to immature insults and indignities than to behavior going ‘beyond all possible bounds of decency.’”
Rollins, a native of Baton Rouge, La., appeared in one game in 2020 and two in 2022. His attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Photo: Justin Ford / Getty Images)