By Letitia Stein
TAMPA, Fla. (Reuters) - A federal judge on Wednesday denied a motion by Florida State University to dismiss a civil rights lawsuit filed by a former student who alleged the school failed to properly investigate her accusations that star quarterback Jameis Winston raped her.
The decision comes as Winston, the No. 1 pick in this year's National Football League draft, begins his professional career as the starting quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The 21-year-old athlete did not face criminal charges in what he has maintained was a consensual encounter in 2012, and he was cleared of any student conduct code violations.
Yet the case is still generating interest. Critics of the university say its response was an example of how professional and collegiate sports organizations have repeatedly failed to deal properly with star players accused of mistreating women.
The woman, Erica Kinsman, in January sued the university under Title IX, which requires colleges receiving federal funds to investigate sexual abuse complaints properly. She has also filed a civil suit against Winston, who filed a counterclaim.
In Wednesday's decision, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee acknowledged that Florida State disputed some of her facts, and had argued its response was diligent or at least not "clearly unreasonable" under federal statute.
Still, he found the case should move forward.
"Viewed in the light most favorable to Ms. Kinsman, the complaint plausibly alleges deliberate indifference during this period that effectively denied her the ability to attend FSU," he wrote.
Kinsman, who ultimately transferred to another university, is seeking monetary damages from Florida State.
“We are very pleased with the ruling and are looking forward to the coming depositions,” Kinsman's attorney, John Clune said, in a statement.
"It is always difficult to prevail on a motion to dismiss filed at the earliest stages of a case," the university said in a statement, noting that it believed it would prevail when the full evidence was known.
A representative for Winston could not be reached.
The Title IX lawsuit centers on the university's response to Kinsman's claims that she was raped at an off-campus apartment in December 2012.
Athletic officials learned about the allegations the next month, but the case was not reported for nearly a year to the university office investigating reports of sexual violence under the federal law, the university has said.
In December 2013, a Florida prosecutor determined there was insufficient evidence to bring sexual assault charges.
Winston won the Heisman Trophy as the top U.S. college football player in 2013.
The case is Erica Kinsman v. Florida State University, Board of Trustees, No. 4:15cv235-MW/CAS, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida.
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)