Baylor campus science building

Fifteen women suing Baylor University under Title IX will have pretrial proceedings consolidated into one action. Their claims had previously been separated into three federal lawsuits.

A federal judge this week expedited the principal Title IX case against Baylor University, ruling that the pretrial procedures established for the first 10 plaintiffs would also apply to the remaining five plaintiffs.

Three lawsuits, encompassing 15 women who allege that Baylor officials mishandled their sexual assault complaints, will be consolidated into one bundle for discovery and pretrial purposes, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman ruled in a win for the plaintiffs.

After a lengthy and contentious discovery process in the first 10-plaintiff lawsuit, lawyers representing all 15 women were pleased by the ruling.

“It makes things much, much more efficient,” Waco attorney Jim Dunnam said. “We don’t have to repeat as many things and we’ve obviously had concerns of Baylor continuing to slow down the process. This, at least, makes it a little more difficult for them to slow down the process.”

The structure of the cases after the discovery phase is not yet known. Pitman will ultimately decide if the cases of the 15 plaintiffs will be heard separately in the courtroom. Until then, depositions and discovery obtained by the women known as Jane Does 1-10 apply to the remainder, known as Jane Does 11-15.

In a brief this week, Dunnam and his co-counsel, Chad Dunn of Houston, asked Pitman to consolidate the two cases, Jane Doe 11 and Jane Does 12-15, against Baylor. Those lawsuits survived motions to dismiss from Baylor and had yet to begin any significant discovery.

Seeking to avoid “a recipe for confusion” and “a wall of flow charts,” the lawyers pressed Pitman further, asking him to consolidate the 15 cases.

In an opposing brief, Baylor attorneys had cited “significant factual differences” in the cases of Jane Doe 11 and Jane Does 12-15. Of the 15 women, Jane Doe 11 is the only one whose alleged assault occurred after Baylor implemented changes to its Title IX infrastructures and policies.

Julie Springer, outside counsel for Baylor, on Thursday said Baylor’s legal team respects the ruling and understands its purpose.

“We will continue to work with Plaintiffs’ counsel to complete the discovery process and look forward to the opportunity to present evidence to the Court regarding the claims and defenses in the case,” Springer said in a statement.

The claims of the plaintiffs, Pitman noted, have been divided into two categories: heightened risk and post-reporting.

The heightened risk claims include the charge that Baylor’s failure to investigate and respond to reports of sexually assault increased the risk of sexual assault for each plaintiff and all female students.

Post-reporting claims allege that Baylor’s own policies constituted sex discrimination and cultivated an environment where harassment and assault were more likely for female students, whose rights to educational opportunities are defined in Title IX.

A trial date is tentatively set for October, but lawyers are first awaiting several rulings related to discovery disputes.

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