Fa­ther files law­suit against late son’s Texas univer­sity

Suit: Stu­dent, who com­mit­ted sui­cide, was treated un­fairly

The Washington Times Daily - - NATION - BY BRAD­FORD RICHARD­SON

A male stu­dent took his own life last year af­ter he was ac­cused of sex­ual mis­con­duct and pun­ished by his univer­sity with­out a fair trial, ac­cord­ing to a law­suit brought by the de­ceased’s fa­ther.

Thomas Klocke killed him­self on June 2, just days af­ter the Univer­sity of Texas at Ar­ling­ton meted out his pun­ish­ment for al­legedly mak­ing anti-gay re­marks to a gay stu­dent. The 24-year-old de­nied the ac­cu­sa­tion at the time and said he was the one be­ing ha­rassed, but never re­ceived a fair hear­ing.

“This is a case that high­lights the re­ally epi­demic prob­lem that we’re see­ing across the coun­try about what hap­pens when a col­lege vi­o­lates the le­gal rights of a stu­dent who’s been ac­cused of mis­con­duct,” said Ken­neth Chaiken, an at­tor­ney who rep­re­sents fa­ther Wayne Klocke. “The ac­cused stu­dent can re­ally suf­fer life-al­ter­ing con­se­quences — in this case of the most tragic form, which was the de­ci­sion to take his own life.”

Un­der the guise of Ti­tle IX, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion com­pelled uni­ver­si­ties to de­prive male stu­dents of due process rights — in­clud­ing the pre­sump­tion of in­no­cence, ac­cess to ex­cul­pa­tory ev­i­dence and the right to cross-ex­am­ine one’s ac­cuser — when they’re ac­cused of sex­ual mis­con­duct.

The law­suit, which was first re­ported by Watch­dog.org, al­leges that UT-Ar­ling­ton failed to com­ply with the wa­tered-down due process pro­tec­tions guar­an­teed by Ti­tle IX and enu­mer­ated in its own poli­cies. It also says Thomas was dis­crim­i­nated against on the ba­sis of his sex.

Univer­sity spokes­woman Teresa Woodard Sch­ny­der said the school “fol­lowed its poli­cies and pro­ce­dures” but de­clined to elab­o­rate fur­ther on the law­suit’s merit.

“This is a tragic sit­u­a­tion and we ex­press our deep­est con­do­lences to the fam­ily for their loss,” Ms. Sch­ny­der said in a state­ment. “The wel­fare of our stu­dents is our high­est pri­or­ity. Any loss is a heart­break­ing one for our en­tire com­mu­nity.”

Thomas was one credit short of grad­u­at­ing when fel­low stu­dent Nicholas Wat­son ac­cused him of typ­ing “gays should die” into the web browser of his lap­top dur­ing a May 19 class. When Mr. Wat­son re­sponded on his own lap­top, “I’m gay,” he said Thomas feigned a yawn and said un­der his breath, “Well, then you’re af — t.”

Mr. Wat­son claimed he told Thomas to leave the class­room, to which Thomas al­legedly re­sponded, “You should con­sider killing your­self.”

Thomas dis­puted that se­ries of events in a May 23 meet­ing with a univer­sity ad­min­is­tra­tor.

He said Mr. Wat­son made un­wanted sex­ual ad­vances, call­ing him beau­ti­ful and con­tin­u­ing to stare at him even af­ter he typed into his lap­top, “stop — I’m straight.” When Mr. Wat­son be­gan typ­ing into his phone and laugh­ing, Thomas said he could not con­cen­trate and moved to the other side of the class­room.

He de­nied ever typ­ing “gays should die” or us­ing any slurs.

The law­suit said the re­jected sex­ual ad­vances may have caused Mr. Wat­son to make up the story, pos­si­bly out of fear that he had vi­o­lated the univer­sity’s pol­icy against sex­ual ha­rass­ment. He is also be­ing sued for mak­ing defam­a­tory state­ments.

Af­ter the in­ci­dent, Mr. Wat­son told the pro­fes­sor what hap­pened and was re­ferred to stu­dent ser­vices. But in­stead he went to as­so­ciate vice pres­i­dent for stu­dent af­fairs Heather Snow, with whom he was on a first-name ba­sis.

Ms. Snow helped Mr. Wat­son to draft a com­plaint against Thomas and as­signed As­so­ciate Di­rec­tor of Aca­demic In­tegrity Daniel Moore to the case rather than the univer­sity’s Ti­tle IX co­or­di­na­tor, who was never in­formed about the case.

The law­suit said this was a vi­o­la­tion of univer­sity pol­icy and Ti­tle IX.

In re­sponse to the al­le­ga­tion, Mr. Moore barred Thomas from at­tend­ing the class, com­mu­ni­cat­ing with any­one in the class or en­ter­ing the build­ing in which the class met. The class was the last one he needed in or­der to grad­u­ate.

Mr. Moore only told Thomas that he was “in­volved in an al­leged vi­o­la­tion of the Univer­sity Stu­dent Code of Con­duct.” The law­suit said Thomas was not in­formed about the na­ture of the charges against him or who made the charges.

Mr. Moore charged Thomas with two vi­o­la­tions of the univer­sity con­duct code and sum­moned him to re­spond to them in a meet­ing on Mary 23.

Be­cause he could not at­tend class or com­mu­ni­cate with any­one in it, Thomas could not col­lect wit­ness ac­counts to cor­rob­o­rate his side of the story. The ac­cused stu­dent also asked that his fa­ther, a lawyer, be al­lowed to sit in on the meet­ing — a re­quest the univer­sity de­nied.

Af­ter the meet­ing, Mr. Moore re­ported to Ms. Snow that the stu­dents had com­pletely dif­fer­ent sto­ries about what hap­pened. Both ad­min­is­tra­tors ac­knowl­edged they did not have enough ev­i­dence to keep Thomas out of class, the law­suit said, but pro­ceeded to pun­ish him any­way.

Mr. Moore and Thomas met again May 25, af­ter which the ad­min­is­tra­tor sent a let­ter in­form­ing him that he was re­spon­si­ble for ha­rass­ment and was barred from re­turn­ing to the class. Thomas was also placed on dis­ci­plinary pro­ba­tion, some­thing that would have shown up on his record and could have kept him out of grad­u­ate school.

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