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 a f — 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. The only identified witness in the class had heard the line, “I think you should leave,” but nothing else. 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.
UT-Arlington policy guarantees students who dispute the facts of allegations against them the right to an impartial trial by a “Hearing Officer” who did not conduct the investigation. The lawsuit said this never happened.
The lawsuit claims university policy was “intentionally selectively enforced” in order to deny Thomas his due process rights, something that contributed to his mental anguish and ultimately caused him to take his life.
Mr. Chaiken said the case “underscores why there is a major need to reform the disciplinary process on campus.”
“This is a case that really and truly highlights just how far certain schools will go to circumvent the protocols that are designed to ensure students are treated fairly.”