A Texas federal judge has ordered Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton to give up a trove of records related to its investigation for Baylor University about how the school inadequately responded to sexual assault allegations by students.
Plaintiffs in a federal Title IX lawsuit against Baylor requested the firm’s records in discovery in their lawsuit that alleges the university ignored their sexual assault allegations as students and created an environment on campus that allowed future sexual attacks to continue. Their lawsuit came after Pepper Hamilton’s 2016 report that found administrators responded inadequately to female students’ allegations that Baylor football players sexually assaulted them. Administrators even discouraged the victims from pursuing the complaints.
Dunnam & Dunnam partner Jim Dunnam of Waco, who represents the plaintiffs, said the Pepper Hamilton records would shine light on the problems at Baylor and get to the bottom of who acted inappropriately.
“Every time we can get to the real facts of the who, what, when and where in regard to the failures at Baylor, we get closer to not only identifying the problem but solving the problem and providing accountability,” he said.
Baylor spokeswoman Lori Fogleman wrote in an email that Baylor is committed to following appropriate Title IX guidelines, and it provides sexual assault prevention training for students, works to prevent assaults, and responds to alleged incidents when they come up.
“Nothing is more important at Baylor University than providing a safe and caring community for our students,” said Fogleman. “Baylor is also committed to providing a caring environment for survivors while working to determine the facts in each case to ensure a fair and equitable process for all involved parties.”
Pepper Hamilton spokesman Daniel Pulka didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Judge Robert Pitman of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas ruled Thursday in Doe v. Baylor that Pepper Hamilton must release the records that the plaintiffs requested by April 11.
Pitman’s order noted that the plaintiffs served a subpoena on Pepper Hamilton back in March 2017, and the firm objected a month later, noting that attorneys who used to represent Baylor had left the firm. The plaintiffs filed a motion to compel, but Pepper Hamilton never responded. The court granted the motion to compel in early March, telling the firm to file any objections by March 15. Pepper Hamilton did that, questioning the court’s jurisdiction and saying producing the records would create an undue burden.
Pitman overruled the objections, explaining the firm waived the arguments when it failed to respond to the plaintiffs’ motion to compel. However, Baylor has produced some records already, so there’s no need for Pepper Hamilton to duplicate those disclosures. Yet the firm must hand over anything that Baylor does not have, or anything Baylor has yet to disclose, he ruled.
The plaintiffs’ March 2017 subpoena asked Pepper Hamilton to produce records in its work on the Baylor investigation from 2015 to the present. That would include documents from prosecutors, law enforcement and the university itself. The plaintiffs want tapes and recordings of interviews, emails and mobile device data, and communications by university employees. They want materials the firm used to create the 2016 report for the board of regents and any documents they gave to regents. The records must back up conclusions Pepper Hamilton made in its 2016 report about Baylor retaliating against sexual assault complainants, discouraging complainants from reporting assaults, using administrative processes that harmed complainants, creating a hostile environment, and failing to take action for campus safety and protecting future victims.
Dunnam said never in his career has he seen so many attempts to obstruct discovery in a case. But he said it doesn’t matter how long it takes.
Dunnam said, “There should be no question in anyone’s mind my client is determined to get to the truth and see justice and transparency with the failures at Baylor.”