Charles J. Cooper, attorney for the players, explained the complaint during a press conference at The National Press Club in Washington, D.C. Thursday afternoon.
The suit, filed today in U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, said University officials remained silent even though they possessed convincing evidence of the players' innocence and also "lent credibility to the rape allegations by capitulating to an angry mob's demands to condemn and punish the innocent players and their blameless coach."
Chuck Cooper said the private university turned its back on the players to protect the school's image. "This lawsuit is born out of Duke and Durham's sustained wrongdoing and callous conduct against the players," Cooper said
Former Durham County prosecutor Mike Nifong won indictments against three lacrosse players in 2006, accusing them of raping a stripper at a team party.
But the case unraveled amid the accuser's constantly changing story and a lack of evidence.
The charges were dismissed and the players exonerated by North Carolina Attorney General Roy Cooper in April 2007 after he took over the investigation from the local district attorney, Michael Nifong.
Nifong was later disbarred for his handling of the case.
The three accused players reached an undisclosed financial settlement with Duke in June, but later filed their own federal civil rights lawsuit against Nifong, the City of Durham and the police detectives who handled the case.
That case is still pending, as is a separate federal lawsuit filed by three unindicted players who sued the university, Nifong and dozens of others for inflicting emotional distress.
Cooper said the lawsuit filed Thursday by the 38 players will not name Nifong because of his pending declaration of bankruptcy.
Pamela Bernard, Duke vice president and general counsel, issued the following statement in response to the lawsuit filed by Attorney Chuck Cooper: "We have not yet seen the lawsuit, but if these plaintiffs have a complaint, it is with Mr. Nifong. Their legal strategy -- attacking Duke -- is misdirected and without merit."
Bernard statement went onto offer help to the families of the lacrosse players. "To help these families move on, Duke offered to cover the cost of any attorneys' fees or other out-of-pocket expenses, but they rejected this offer. We will vigorously defend the university against these claims," Bernard stated.
None of the lawsuits were filed against the woman who said she was raped. In the lawsuit filed Thursday, the accuser was called a "deeply mentally disturbed, drug-dependent young woman."