The college football world was rocked yesterday with the report that Ohio State Football Coach Urban Meyer has been put on paid leave pending an investigation into alleged domestic violence by one of his (now former) assistant coaches. Mr. Meyer is not alleged to have committed domestic violence, so you may be wondering how this story may implicate him. The answer lies in the school’s Title IX Policy, and in particular the Title IX language in Mr. Meyer’s new contract that he signed in April 2018.
The issue is what, if anything, Mr. Meyer knew of the recent allegations against his assistant, and whether or not Mr. Meyer was required to report what he may have known. Here is the relevant contractual language (with important provisions highlighted):
Coach shall promptly report to Ohio State’s Deputy Title IX Coordinator for Athletics any known violations of Ohio State’s Sexual Misconduct Policy (including, but not limited to, sexual harassment, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, intimate violence and stalking) that involve any student, faculty, or staff that is in connection with a university sponsored activity or event.
[A] “known violation” shall mean a violation or an allegation of a violation of Title IX that Coach is aware of or has reasonable cause to believe is taking place or may have taken place.1
While the nuances of this language do not seem to be getting attention in the media, it is important to get into these details when advising clients. First, note the broad language “involve any…staff” that would seem to include the assistant coach; but also note the language immediately following these words that limits the contract’s reach, “in connection with a university sponsored activity or event.” Clearly the allegations involve a staff member, but the reporting thus far does not suggest that the allegation was connected with a university activity or event. I would focus a defense of Mr. Meyer on this “in connection with” limitation.
Second, note the broad language in the second paragraph that includes “allegation[s]” that Mr. Meyer had “reasonable cause to believe…may have taken place.” This language works against Mr. Meyer by imputing to him a duty to report mere allegations of things he reasonably thinks might have happened, instead of things that he actually knows to have happened. If you fear that this broad language can lead to a Salem Witch Trial-feel on college campuses, welcome to Title IX. This may especially trouble you given that the assistant coach’s accuser is not an Ohio State employee, the alleged incidents did not occur on campus, and the accuser does not know whether Mr. Meyer was ever told of the recent allegations.2
Mr. Meyer’s contract language is not unique in the Title IX world. Miami University’s Title IX policy for employees, for example, similarly requires that all employees report even mere allegations of Title IX violations.3
Are you a university employee or student wondering if you have a duty to report a Title IX violation? Are you facing university discipline for failing to report? You need an experienced attorney to review your case and the applicable policies. There may be language protecting you such as the clause in Mr. Meyer’s contract limiting the duty to incidents connected with university activities.
The world will have to wait for the outcome of the Urban Meyer case, but you should not wait to get advice if you are facing a similar issue.