Judge moves Baylor Title IX lawsuit closer to trial

WACO, Texas — A federal judge moved a Title IX and negligence lawsuit that names Baylor University, former football coach Art Briles and former athletic director Ian McCaw as defendants, and that stems from the school’s mishandling of sexual violence reports, closer to trial Wednesday.

U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman set the rules for the upcoming trial at a hearing Wednesday and said he would be questioning potential jurors because of the “sensitivities” in the case. Jury selection is scheduled to begin Oct. 13 in Waco, Texas.

A 2016 lawsuit claims Baylor, Briles and McCaw were at fault for a football player’s alleged repeated physical assault of a former female student and the ongoing harm she suffered as a result.

The plaintiff, Dolores Lozano, is accusing the university of discrimination under the federal Title IX gender equity law, and Briles, McCaw and Baylor of negligence under Texas state law. She filed the lawsuit just months after after an outside investigation found rampant problems with discipline in the Baylor football program and the university’s handling of sexual violence complaints.

Lawyers for Baylor, Briles and McCaw declined to comment while leaving the U.S. District Court in the Western District of Texas on Wednesday.

“Baylor is prepared to present evidence and testimony to the jury as we seek a fair resolution in this matter,” Baylor spokesman Jason Cook said in a separate statement Wednesday. “The lawsuit involves allegations of physical assaults within the context of a dating relationship between two young adults — not sexual assault. Baylor coaches and employees — in Athletics and across the campus — did the right things in this case by offering and providing resources and support services to the plaintiff.

“These allegations are from 2014 and earlier — more than nine years ago. It is the last remaining lawsuit relating to the issues Baylor faced prior to 2016.”

It’s rare for a Title IX case to make it to trial, and it’s largely unheard of for the head coach or athletic director of a major program to be tried as defendants.

Baylor has faced several Title IX lawsuits and threats of litigation stemming from women who reported being the victims of sexual violence after the university’s failings became public. Aside from this case, it has settled all of them, including one involving 15 women that was dismissed last month.

Testimony and evidence presented at the upcoming trial could air the ongoing fight between Briles and the university over how much the football program was to blame for the school’s overall failures in addressing reports of sexual violence.

Lozano, a Baylor student from 2010 to 2014, described in her initial lawsuit how her relationship with Bears football player Devin Chafin began in the fall of 2012 and grew increasingly violent as he struggled with substance abuse and as his grades jeopardized his status on the team.

Lozano alleges that she reported the abuse, but that coaches, administrators, staff and police officers failed to adequately respond. Her lawsuit claims school officials had subjected her to further harm by purposefully covering up reports of criminal activity by football players over several years.

The lawsuit alleges three specific violent acts, including one incident on March 6, 2014, in which Lozano and Chafin argued about an abortion she had, and Chafin slapped Lozano “so hard she fell over the toilet,” “repeatedly kicked her in the stomach” and “began to choke her until she could not breathe,” the lawsuit states.

Lozano, who worked as a manager for the acrobatics and tumbling team while she was a student at Baylor, says she told the team’s coach, LaPrise Williams, about the assault, and that Williams reported it to associate athletic director Nancy Post.

Lozano claims she also shared details of the assault with football team chaplain Wes Yeary. She said Chafin told her he talked to assistant coach and Briles’s son-in-law Jeff Lebby, who had asked Lozano to tutor Chafin, and that Briles and then-Baylor president Kenneth Starr had also been made aware of the assault.

Starr, who died in 2022, was not named as a defendant in the lawsuit.

According to the lawsuit, Lebby responded by giving Chafin extra weightlifting work and Yeary told Lozano to “stay away” from Chafin and gave her a book by a Christian women’s author.

After another alleged assault, which Lozano says was witnessed by other football players, she sought help at the on-campus health clinic and counseling center and shared the details of the incidents, according to the complaint. Baylor health clinic staff referred to her to the on-campus counseling center to “assist her in her spiritual self-worth and preservation,” the lawsuit states. None of the individuals at Baylor relayed her reports of abuse to judicial affairs, according to Lozano’s complaint.

The lawsuit lists other efforts Lozano and her mother made to inform Baylor about Chafin’s behavior, including a report made to the Waco Police Department.

Police didn’t interview Chafin, and he was never charged with a crime. The city of Waco had been a defendant in the lawsuit, but Lozano and the city reached an agreement in October 2021, and Lozano dropped her claims of a violation of due process against the police department.

Lozano graduated from Baylor in May 2014. She has since worked in sports radio, communications and on nonprofit boards and is now serving a four-year term as a justice of the peace in Harris County, Texas. Although she never requested anonymity and filed the initial lawsuit under her name, she has rarely spoken publicly about the case and, through her attorney Sheila Haddock, declined ESPN’s request for an interview.

Chafin remained on the Baylor football team until 2016, when he was dismissed following an arrest for marijuana possession. He then played one season at Missouri Southern State University.

When reached by ESPN on Wednesday, Chafin, who is not a defendant in the lawsuit, said his relationship with Lozano was “toxic from the beginning” and that her allegations are “blown out of proportion” and “falsified.” He said Lozano grabbed him and scratched him when they fought over the abortion.

“As far as what I told my coaches, I told my coaches that she had gotten pregnant, and that they had gotten an abortion, and I was dealing with it, and I was really emotional,” Chafin said. “And that was basically it because nothing to tell my coaches of a story like the one that she made up.”

He said he graduated from Baylor and has been coaching and teaching.

Lozano’s case has been working its way through federal court for the past seven years and now spans thousands of pages of filings.

In opposing the lawsuit, the defendants have argued that Lozano’s claims fall outside the two-year statute of limitations. Lozano responded that she wasn’t aware she had a case until May 2016 when — after being contacted by an ESPN reporter — she learned of an independent investigation by law firm Pepper Hamilton that revealed a pattern of concealment within the football program and improper handling of sexual violence reports at Baylor.

Judge Pitman, who has overseen all of the Title IX cases against Baylor stemming from the Briles era, has agreed with Lozano about the timeline and ruled her case falls within the statute of limitations. In 2019, when he denied Baylor’s and McCaw’s motions to dismiss, he wrote, “Lozano has plausibly alleged that Baylor’s selective enforcement of reports of domestic abuse and sexual assault created a heightened risk of assault, which subjected her to a sexually discriminatory education environment under Title IX.”

In a motion for summary judgment in November 2020, Briles claimed Lozano’s allegations have no merit. Briles pointed to Lozano’s and Baylor’s answers to questions in discovery, as well as depositions, that he says show that he “did not violate any policies, conceal anything, or have any cognizable connection to Lozano or her alleged assaults.”

Since his firing in 2016, Briles has argued that the university used him and the football program as a scapegoat for the university’s larger failings of administrators and regents in addressing sexual assault.

Pitman, in denying Briles’s motion in March 2022, referred to a defamation case in 2017 in which two regents said that “Briles and others created a culture that shielded players from discipline for offenses” and “routinely did not report incidents to officials outside of the football program.”

Pitman’s strongest rebuke of any claim that the parties weren’t responsible for Lozano’s alleged repeated abuse came in his September 2022 denial of McCaw’s motion to dismiss the case, in which the former athletic director said he did not owe a legal duty to Lozano.

Pitman responded by saying that McCaw knew about the first assault through his employees, according to McCaw’s own affidavit, and that “it was foreseeable that Chafin would continue to assault Lozano without intervention.”

All three defendants have asked the court to exclude or limit records of other sexual violence cases, including the Pepper Hamilton findings. Lozano’s reports involving Chafin were not among those the law firm used in its final report. Pitman, in multiple rulings, has typically sided with bringing those reports before the jury and has cited frequently from the Pepper Hamilton investigation throughout his orders.

Briles was fired from Baylor following the release of the Pepper Hamilton findings in 2016. He has since coached in Italy and for a high school team in East Texas. In August, the International Football Alliance hired Briles to coach its Dallas team. Other coaching jobs — including one with a Canadian Football League team — were scuttled in the wake of public backlash. His mere presence on the sidelines of an Oklahoma game this season alongside Lebby, now the Sooners’ offensive coordinator, also drew public outrage.

McCaw, who was suspended from Baylor in May 2016 and resigned shortly after, is now athletic director at Liberty University. The Pepper Hamilton investigation also led to Starr’s demotion and eventual departure from Baylor.

In September, Baylor settled a separate federal lawsuit, brought by 15 women who alleged they were sexually assaulted at the school. Among the plaintiffs were three women who alleged being assaulted by football players and a club rugby player.

Source link

Leave a Comment