Baylor University

Responding to a filing in a Title IX lawsuit, Baylor attorneys stated Tuesday that a student’s ties to university administrators did not result in an improper investigation of a sexual harassment claim made against the student.

Baylor University continued Tuesday to press plaintiffs in a federal Title IX lawsuit to disclose more details of personal communications from women who allege they were sexually assaulted by fellow students.

In a filing with the U.S. District Court for the Western District, Baylor said the plaintiffs have no legal basis for redacting information such as the names of friends who discussed the assault allegations with the plaintiffs online. The university also defended itself against accusations that an investigation into one of the “alleged assailants” was closed prematurely because of his ties to top administrators. The investigation resulted in a no-contact order issued against the man, according to the filing.

The 10 plaintiffs in the Title IX lawsuit are claiming Baylor put them in danger by failing to take sufficient action against sexual misconduct reports.

In the filing Tuesday, Baylor attorneys ask the judge to compel the release of redacted information so that the university could “determine the factual merits of the claims.”

“Only after the Jane Does, the John Does and pertinent witnesses have been questioned about their knowledge of plaintiffs’ allegations can the parties and court explore whether Baylor is legally responsible for causing an assault,” Baylor’s attorneys wrote.

Baylor has been seeking the information since last month, and in this case it was responding to a plaintiffs’ reply that argued communications with “non-party” friends should be protected. Plaintiffs’ attorney Jim Dunnam has argued that witnesses or others who communicated with the plaintiffs should be notified before their identities are disclosed.

He has criticized Baylor for behaving according to a “double standard” as it has fought against disclosure of records of current and past students not party to the Title IX case. In Tuesday’s filing, Baylor responded that it is trying to uphold FERPA, or the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, which protects educational records. That law does not apply to private correspondence, the filing asserts.

In an interview Tuesday, Dunnam said student privacy is important regardless of FERPA, and he hopes the judge will find a reasonable solution.

“I think Baylor’s hypocrisy on student privacy is astounding,” Dunnam said. “The issue is the privacy rights of these students. … Baylor is very cavalier about their privacy rights.”

He said the “non-party” individuals in question are in many cases fellow rape survivors, which makes privacy even more important.

The filing also gave Baylor an opportunity to push back against Dunnam’s suggested that one of the alleged assailants, whom Baylor called “John Doe 3,” got favorable treatment from administrators, including former president Ken Starr.

Starr and vice president Kevin Jackson wrote a character reference letter in March 2015, after John Doe 3 graduated and found that a juvenile record of sexual misconduct was an obstacle to getting a job.

Baylor’s attorneys say Dunnam confused the timeline of events with the alleged assailant, and argue that Starr and Jackson couldn’t have known about the plaintiff’s sexual assault allegation, which she didn’t report until February 2016.

Dunnam stood by his earlier criticism and said Starr and Jackson should have known, as the previous filing states, about an unrelated sexual harassment allegation that took place while the alleged assailant was at Baylor.

Dunnam suggested Baylor was lax in dismissing that allegation after only a day of investigation. But in its latest filing, Baylor says it was not indifferent to those sexual harassment allegations and gave the complainant what she sought: a “no-contact” order that would keep the male student away from her.

J.B. Smith is the the Tribune-Herald managing editor. A native of Sulphur Springs, he attended Southwestern University and joined the Tribune-Herald in 1997. He and his wife, Bethany, live in Waco and have two children.

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