Judge: Federal lawsuit against Baylor University can proceed

AP News
|
Posted: Mar 07, 2017 9:31 PM

HOUSTON (AP) — A lawsuit filed against Baylor University by 10 women alleging they were sexually assaulted while students can proceed, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

The women, identified as "Jane Doe" plaintiffs, allege Baylor was indifferent to or ignored claims of sexual assault and didn't enforce federal general discrimination protections.

Baylor had sought to have the lawsuit dismissed, arguing the former students' allegations were insufficient to state a claim of liability and the women had failed to plausibly allege they were subjected to "further" harassment after reporting their initial sexual assaults.

The university faces several federal lawsuits from women who say Baylor mishandled, ignored or suppressed their claims of assault for years, including several cases involving football players. The school also faces a federal civil rights investigation.

But in an order issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman in Austin rejected Baylor's arguments to completely dismiss the lawsuit.

Pitman wrote that the women had filed their claims alleging that Baylor created a heightened risk of sexual harassment or assault by permitting a "campus condition rife with sexual assault" and by discouraging or mishandling reports of sexual assault within the two-year statute of limitations to do so.

While some of the alleged sexual assaults date back to 2004, their claims for heightened-risk liability didn't become a legal claim until spring 2016.

"The Court finds that each Plaintiff in the instant case has plausibly alleged that Baylor was deliberately indifferent to her report(s) of sexual assault, depriving her of educational opportunities to which she was entitled," Pitman wrote in his 27-page order.

Pitman did dismiss claims for four of the women, saying the statute of limitations had run out for them to sue over Baylor's actions toward them after their alleged assaults. Pitman also dismissed claims all of the women had made under Texas law for negligence and breach of contract.

Baylor spokeswoman Tonya Lewis said the university was encouraged by the ruling and the judge's dismissal of some of the claims.

"Baylor intends to continue to defend itself against those allegations that have not yet been dismissed," Lewis said in a statement. "As we have stressed throughout, our hearts go out to all victims of sexual assault at Baylor. We deeply regret the pain they experienced and continue to pray for their healing."

Chad Dunn, one of the attorneys for the women, said he was also pleased by Pitman's order.

"The judge's ruling is an excellent development for our ten clients, for other victims of sexual assault at Baylor and for university sexual assault victims in general. It's important now that we can move forward ... and finally determine what happened at Baylor to cause such a dramatic amount of sexual assaults," he said.

Dunn said it's too early to know when the lawsuit might go to trial.

Baylor fired football coach Art Briles in May 2016 and demoted then-university President Ken Starr, who later resigned, after an outside law firm determined the school had mishandled cases for years.

Last week, Briles released a one-page letter defending himself and insisting he didn't cover up sexual violence by his players or try to obstruct any investigations.

Baylor officials last month revealed select text messages between Briles, assistant coaches and staff members that appear to show them trying to shield players from police and university discipline.

___

Follow Juan A. Lozano on Twitter at www.twitter.com/juanlozano70