Throughout the course of the last decade, Baylor University has been at the forefront of news headlines for drastically mishandling numerous Title IX matters and sexual assault allegations. The university has swept through a myriad of administrators and staff to clean up the mess created on the Baptist college’s campus. In August 2015, Baylor hired the law firm of Pepper Hamilton to conduct an external review into the university’s handling of sexual assault cases.
Pepper Hamilton’s findings were released on May 26, 2016, and the review explicitly highlighted Baylor’s institutional inadequacies in regard to its compliance with Title IX. The report explained that Baylor did not create a Title IX office or hire a full-time Title IX coordinator until the fall of 2014, and “institutional failures” existed at “every level of Baylor’s administration.” The review also analyzed numerous factors that impeded the effective implementation of Title IX at the university:
Based on a high-level audit of all reports of sexual harassment or violence for three academic years from 2012-2013 through 2014-2015, Pepper found that the University’s student conduct processes were wholly inadequate to consistently provide a prompt and equitable response under Title IX, that Baylor failed to consistently support complainants through the provision of interim measures, and that in some cases, the University failed to take action to identify and eliminate a potential hostile environment, prevent its recurrence, or address its effects for individual complainants or the broader campus community.
Since the release of the Pepper Hamilton review, Baylor’s institutional and legal battles have continually progressed. One lawsuit the university is currently defending is a consolidated Title IX case brought by 15 former students. On April 1, 2020, a federal court in Texas granted Baylor’s motion to dismiss the students’ claims for injunctive relief and punitive damages. Injunctive relief is a request to stop a defendant from engaging in harmful behavior. Punitive damages are damages that are above the normal award, and they seek to punish a defendant for their behavior.
The students asked the court for two types of injunctive relief. The students first asked the court to order that Baylor allow them to retake classes, remove certain grades from their transcripts that would preclude graduate study, and remove disciplinary notations in their transcripts. The students also asked the court to compel Baylor to enforce future campus-wide policy, procedures for reports of student sexual violence, and similar student code of conduct enforcement.
The court’s Order allows the students to proceed with their claims seeking removal of disciplinary notations on their transcript and other revisions to their academic records. However, the Court ruled in Baylor’s favor in regard to the enforcement of various policies because the students did not have standing to compel the enforcement of those policies. In essence, standing means that the students are sufficiently connected to the lawsuit and the injuries it has sustained. Baylor argued that the students did not have standing to compel the university to enforce campus policies because all of the students had either graduated or withdrawn from the university. In response, many of the students contended that they would return to Baylor if the court ordered the university to comply with Title IX. Unfortunately, that argument was not enough. The court found that the students offered no direct evidence expressly stating they intended or desired to return to Baylor. The students tried to fix their standing issue by asking the court to allow them to add another student to the lawsuit who is currently enrolled at Baylor because the enrolled student is aware that Title IX violations are still occurring at the school. However, the court refused to budge.
The court also ruled in favor of Baylor on the issue of punitive damages. The court stated that, while it has not been stated verbatim, it is all but certain that the United States Supreme Court would decide that the Title IX federal statute does not allow punitive damages in a private action. On a brighter note, the students are allowed to continue its lawsuit against Baylor for compensatory damages and other related relief.
Baylor’s mission statement includes a promise that it is committed to providing a “caring community.” Hopefully, the university begins to actively take steps to ensure that their promise extends to survivors of sexual assault. The qualified attorneys at Aylstock, Witkin, Kreis, and Overholtz are committed to bringing justice to survivors of sexual assault. Please contact us today to receive more information.
Jane Doe 1, et al. v. Baylor University, Case No. 6:16-cv-00173-RP-AWA (W.D. Tx. Apr. 1, 2020) (Doc. 818)