A former Baylor University football official is dropping his libel suit against the university and Pepper Hamilton, but his claims may not be gone forever.
Lawyers for Colin Shillinglaw filed a notice of nonsuit last week in a Dallas state court, but they reportedly plan to take the claims to arbitration. Shillinglaw, who was Baylor’s director of football operations from 2008 to 2015, has alleged that he was defamed by reports that he failed to address allegations of sexual assault by university football players.
According to press reports, Gaines West, Shillinglaw’s lawyer, said that his client’s employment agreement requires disputes to be resolved in arbitration. West did not respond to requests for comment Monday.
Baylor hired Pepper Hamilton in 2015 to investigate the sexual assault allegations and the school’s management of the complaints. The firm presented its findings in 2016, after which Shillinglaw was fired. Baylor’s chancellor, Ken Starr, also resigned following the report, and head football coach Art Briles was fired.
Shillinglaw filed his complaint in January against Baylor, the law firm, several university regents and its interim president. It said Pepper Hamilton’s report focused on statements that Shillinglaw “improperly discharged his duties.” He alleged that those statements were false, “reckless, deceptive and defamatory.”
In an answer to the complaint, filed in March, Pepper Hamilton argued that it made no defamatory statements. In addition, the firm said, it is subject to attorney immunity.
The Baylor parties filed motions to dismiss Shillinglaw’s claims, and a hearing on those motions is scheduled for Thursday. In a letter to the court filed April 7, a lawyer for the university said the motions to dismiss include claims for affirmative relief that survive a nonsuit, so the Baylor parties intend to continue litigating the motions.
Shillinglaw is not the only former Baylor employee to sue Pepper Hamilton over his dismissal. Tom Hill, a 28-year employee of the university, filed a complaint against the firm in December. The former associate athletics director said Pepper Hamilton’s report was flawed, and alleged that the firm was negligent in its investigation.
Lawyers Gina Maisto Smith and Leslie Gomez, who were also named as defendants in Hill’s suit, left Pepper Hamilton earlier this year, going to Cozen O’Connor to launch a new practice group focused on institutional response to sexual misconduct. Their departure was unrelated to the Baylor litigation, the firm said.
In an interview with The Legal earlier this year, Smith acknowledged that practices like hers differ from a civil litigation practice, in which the legal advice is not to admit wrongdoing. That approach was new when she began investigating institutions, she said, “and as with anything that is new you see the legal responses adjust.” It’s important that investigators keep clear records to back up their recommendations, she said.
A spokesman for Pepper Hamilton declined to comment on Shillinglaw’s case. A spokeswoman for Baylor also declined to comment.