-- A Baylor athletic department employee who was fired in wake of the sexual assault scandal at the university has asked a Texas court to order the Baylor board of regents to produce the Pepper Hamilton report.
Thomas Hill, a former assistant athletic director for community relations and special projects, was fired in late May after 28 years at Baylor. According to his attorney, Rogge Dunn of Dallas, Hill was never given an explanation for his firing.
"Baylor summarily fired Mr. Hill without explanation or warning," says a release from Hill's attorneys. "In a rush to judgment, Baylor's Board of Regents made the decision to fire Mr. Hill without ever talking to him or getting his side of the story."
Dunn said he filed a Rule 202 Petition that asks a Dallas County court to order the board of regents to turn over materials related to Hill's firing, including the Pepper Hamilton report, and to allow him to interview various regents.
"I think what's really important about the filing is we're going to be seeking depositions and evidence from the board of regents, including work from Pepper Hamilton," Dunn told ESPN. "It's a way to get to the evidence quickly, rather than from the other cases that are moving slowly."
In late May, after the board of regents received a presentation from law firm Pepper Hamilton, the regents announced the demotion of president Ken Starr to chancellor, the suspension with intent to terminate of football coach Art Briles and probation for athletic director Ian McCaw. (The board had hired Pepper Hamilton to investigate the situation.) Within weeks, McCaw would resign, Briles would be fired and Starr would step down from all leadership positions at Baylor but stay on as a law professor.
The school also fired Hill and assistant athletic director for football operations Colin Shillinglaw, who was named in one police report as the person police should contact if they needed anything from the football program. Hill's name never surfaced in any reports reviewed by Outside the Lines, and it remains unclear what role he played in the sexual assault investigation.
"While not to the same degree as the courageous women who were victimized in this dark time in Baylor's history, Hill is yet another -- and unnecessary -- victim of this controversy," the petition states.
The petition also states that Hill wants to investigate why he was fired and that he does not yet anticipate a wrongful termination lawsuit.
In an interview with Outside the Lines, Hill said he was "interrogated" by Pepper Hamilton about an incident involving a volleyball player. "They asked me if I was aware of a rape. They asked me if I knew of a 6-foot-2-inch volleyball player," he said.
Hill said he told them that former volleyball coach Jim Barnes had stopped by his office and told him there had been a sexual encounter between a football player and a volleyball player. Hill said Barnes told him that it had already been reported to McCaw.
"He indicated that he had had conversations with [football coach Art] Briles prior to seeing me," Hill said. "And he stopped by my office only to give me a pass-by FYI that he was discussing this issue with them. That was it. The issue was a potential sexual incident with a football player and a volleyball player."
After 11 years at Baylor, Barnes was fired in 2014 after two straight losing seasons. He could not immediately be reached for comment at his office at Tulane University, where he now coaches.
Hill said he never knew the name of the football player or the volleyball player, and he never knew specifically that it was a rape. "Really, he didn't give me a lot of details," Hill said, adding that Barnes didn't tell him it was rape -- only that it was a "sexual encounter."
Hill said he called McCaw shortly after Barnes stopped by his office, but Hill said he did not learn any more details about the incident from that conversation. He said he didn't remember the exact date, but thought it was around 2012. Asked how much more he learned about the incident later, he said, "Zero. That day was all."
A reported gang rape by Baylor football players in 2011 shows up in an amended Title IX lawsuit filed by attorneys for Jasmin Hernandez. Hernandez was sexually assaulted by former football player Tevin Elliott and is claiming in the lawsuit that Baylor officials knew of a culture of inappropriate sexual conduct by its football players long before her incident.
In reference to the 2011 alleged gang rape, the complaint states that, "Baylor had actual knowledge of Jane Roe 4's gang rape but failed to respond promptly and equitably. As a result of Baylor's inequitable response, Jane Roe 4 transferred out of Baylor to another university." It does not name the women or the football players allegedly involved in the incident, but sources have told Outside the Lines that the incident involving the volleyball player is possibly related.
Allowing a demand for interviews and documents such as Hill's prior to the filing of a lawsuit is a procedure somewhat unique to Texas, Dunn said. It has to be filed in the county of residence for the subjects of the deposition interviews -- in this case, board of regents chairman Ron Murff and board members Mark Lovvorn and David Harper.
Baylor said Thursday it would not comment on pending litigation.
Members of the board of regents have declined to discuss specific personnel decisions and have remained largely silent the past two months. The university is facing three civil lawsuits filed on behalf of eight women who said Baylor did not respond appropriately to their claims of sexual assault under federal Title IX laws.
Baylor officials, including interim president David Garland, have insisted that the university does not have a written copy of a report from Pepper Hamilton. In May, the school released a summary of the law firm's findings, which stated that the firm reviewed emails, mobile device data and documents from former and current Baylor employees. The summary said attorneys interviewed more than 65 people. Hill's petition includes a demand for those materials.
The summary detailed how Baylor -- and specifically members of the football program -- failed to respond to reports of sexual assaults, but it did not include any details of specific incidents or names of victims, athletes, coaches or staff.
In one passage, it states that, "In certain instances ... athletics and football personnel affirmatively chose not to report sexual violence and dating violence to an appropriate administrator outside of athletics. In those instances, football coaches or staff met directly with a complainant and/or a parent of a complainant and did not report the misconduct. As a result, no action was taken to support complainants, fairly and impartially evaluate the conduct under Title IX, address identified cultural concerns within the football program, or protect campus safety once aware of a potential pattern of sexual violence by multiple football players."
Hill said he worked in administration for the volleyball program between 2011 and 2013; he primarily handled travel, awards and other logistics and did not have day-to-day interaction with any student-athletes. He said Pepper Hamilton asked him questions about that one incident. He said he wasn't aware of any other sexual assaults or related crimes involving football players or about any coaches or staff involved in any reports of sexual assaults.
"[Pepper Hamilton attorneys] asked me what I would do if I was aware of a rape," he said. Hill said he told the attorneys, "I'd tell my boss. If it was the victim, I would make sure their safety is taken care of and I would then report it. Otherwise, I would take it to my boss."
When asked why Hill didn't try to get more details about the incident from Barnes at the time, he said, "I didn't pry. These were private matters. And he told me what he wanted to tell me."
Hill said he was asked to come to a meeting on May 26 to answer some follow-up questions regarding the Pepper Hamilton report, and when he arrived, he was told that he was being terminated "effective immediately based on the findings of the Pepper Hamilton investigation." He said Baylor officials would not tell him any more information. "I'm innocent. I don't know why I'm being fired," he said. "My reputation is tarnished. My integrity is questioned. I'm an innocent man."
Rogge Dunn, Hill's attorney, said Baylor offered him a $30,000 severance -- a third of his $100,000 salary -- if he agreed not to pursue any legal claims and sign a confidentiality agreement, and he refused. Although Texas is an at-will state, meaning that employers do not need to prove cause for firing someone, Dunn said there are some exceptions to that provision and he said he needs the information requested by the petition to determine if Hill has a case.
While Hill spoke positively of Shillinglaw and Briles, he said he had "no idea one way or the other" if they, or any other athletic department employees, were complicit in any inappropriate handling of sexual assault reports at Baylor. Hill said he wasn't aware of any other athletic department staff members or coaches who were fired.