Coach Briles filed suit against Baylor University last December for defamation. See my post about that lawsuit here. In that lawsuit, he claimed Baylor said he knew about rapes and sexual assaults and did nothing about them. He claims din his lawsuit that was false, that he did not know about the sexual assaults. Well, now, he has dropped his lawsuit. He dropped his lawsuit just as a lawsuit filed by a former Athletic department assistant was getting started. Colin Shillinglaw filed his own suit against Baylor. Mr. Shillinglaw sued Baylor for claiming he had mis-handled the incidents involving the sexual assaults and rapes. In response to Mr. Shillinglaw’s lawsuit, Baylor provided evidence of Coach Briles’ knowledge of the incidents. Up to now, the administration has kept quiet about specific evidence, probably to protect the confidential nature of the claims.

For example, in response to a text about a football player exposing himself to a masseuse and asking for special favors, Coach Briles responded. “What kind of discipline . . . She a stripper?” The player, Tevin Elliot remained on the football squad and the incident was not reported to administration officials. Later, that same player would be accused of rape by two women in separate incidents. In 2013, a female athlete accused several players of gang raping her. She eventually told her female coach. When the female coach approached Coach Briles about it, he said, “These are some bad dudes. Why was she around those guys?” The response filed by the school argues that the football program was a “black hole” into which disappeared these allegations of brandishing a gun, drug use, domestic violence, indecent exposure, academic fraud, and physical assault.  See Chicago Tribune report.

It would be surprising if Coach Briles did not know about the actions of his players. Most coaches, perhaps all coaches are approached about what their players allegedly have done. And, really, the coaches know their players very well. So, Coach Briles’ suggestion that he knew his players were “bad dudes” reflects very poorly on him and the sort of players he recruited. The best defense to a defamation lawsuit is the simple truth. One can guess that Coach Briles filed his lawsuit as a bluff, hoping the administration would not reveal its information. He may have been trying to take advantage of the school’s difficult position. It must and is required to protect the confidential nature of these allegations. But, if so, he was wrong to assume the administration would not provide enough information to protect itself.

Coach Art Briles has filed suit against Baylor University. He filed suit for libel, saying Baylor is spreading false allegations that he knew of sexual assaults and did not report them. See Dallas Morning News report. “Libel” refers to defaming someone verbally. Slander refers to defaming someone in writing. Baylor has been very careful about what it says about Coach Briles. There have been a few stories just recently that Coach Briles was aware of an alleged gang rape incident and did not report it to Baylor authorities. See SB nation report. Coach Briles claims that what Baylor is saying about him is keeping him from finding a new coaching position. He was just recently overlooked for an open head coaching job at the University of Houston, He had formerly coached at U of H before he started working for Baylor.

The sad truth is that defamation claims in Texas are very difficult for the plaintiff. What an employer says about an employee is accorded extra protection in Texas. The employer receives a qualified privilege when it discusses an employee or former employee. That means Coach Briles would have to show Baylor acted with actual malice when it said those things about the coach. To show malice, the plaintiff must show the employer knew or should have known what it said was false and that it did so with intent to cause harm. Simply showing an employer knew something was false, as opposed to simple mistake, is a very high obstacle. But, to also show the employer made that false statement with the intent to cause harm is huge. Unless Coach Briles has an inside witness who can attest that the Baylor spokesperson wanted to be sure Coach Briles never worked again, the coach will lose his defamation lawsuit.

That is why lawsuits alleging defamation in the work place are so rare. Who would ever have that sort of evidence? Many clients have asked me about suing their former employer for something the employer has said. Yes, many employers do defame former employees. But, unless the law changes, those sorts of lawsuits will remain exceedingly rare.

Coach Art Briles settled his wrongful termination lawsuit against Baylor University. I previously wrote about that lawsuit here. I wrote then that it was pretty “nervy” of Coach Briles to sue his employer for wrongful termination after his inaction caused so much heartburn for his employer. He apparently settled the lawsuit soon after he filed it. See Houston Chronicle report.

Coach Briles has been sued along with Baylor University. Various female plaintiffs allege the school did not protect them from sexual assaults. The lawsuit is based on Title IX which requires equal facilities for female students.  This week, Coach Briles filed a motion asking to be dismissed from the lawsuit. Among the reasons why he argues he should be dismissed are:

  • that the time limit for filing a Title IX lawsuit has passed. One of the plaintiffs was attacked by a football player in 2012, but suit was not filed until 2016;
  • under Title IX, a person cannot be sued in his own personal capacity;
  • Claims that Coach Briles was warned that a player was a sexual predator are based on hearsay;
  • under Texas law, a person cannot be held liable for the criminal acts of another. A person is not required to protect another person from criminal acts.

Legally, these may be good reasons for one defendant to be dismissed from a lawsuit. The time limit issue is problematic for the plaintiffs. But, we do not know the names of the other plaintiffs. We do not know if they have more timely claims against Baylor and Coach Briles. See San Antonio Express News report.

But, in the court of public opinion, Coach Briles will lose when he claims he had no responsibility to protect female students from sexual predators on his football team. Right or wrong, we expect a football coach at a major public university to have a good bit of control over his players. And, every female student who has ever attended a U.S. university came with some minimal expectation that no coach would knowingly allow a football player to prey on female students. In filing motions like that, one expects that Coach Briles does not intend to seek future jobs as a coach. Who would hire a coach who claims publicly that he has no duty to protect some students from his players?

So, now Coach Art Briles has sued Baylor University for “wrongful termination.” See San Antonio Express News report. The saga of the Baylor University football team reached its apex a few weeks ago when the Pepper Hamilton law firm report was released. The report implicated Baylor University officials, including Coach Briles, in the half dozen or so rapes and sexual assaults committed by football players. As sports scandals go, its a “big un.” It ranks up there with the SMU scandals of the 1980’s.

So, it might seem nervy for Coach Briles to file suit. “Wrongful termination” in itself is not a cause of action recognized in Texas law. But, we can assume that a coach like Mr. Briles, reportedly paid $6 million per year, had a clause in his contract that he could be fired for only good reason or “just cause.” If so, then sure, he could sue for breach of contract. The breach would be in regard to the just cause provision.

So, what would be “wrongful” about his termination? The coach has only spoken once about the firing. He said that he had not seen the evidence used to fire him. He has not seen the Pepper Hamilton law firm report. But, that does not mean the evidence does not exist. Coach Briles and Baylor have already been sued by two alleged rape victims. Those lawsuits alone would be enough to justify most terminations of employees with a “just cause” provision. I find it had to believe Coach Briles truly believes the evidence justifying his termination does not exist. More likely, he is simply trying to get the some sort of settlement with Baylor. It is not an attractive aspect of litigation. But, he is likely betting the school would prefer to settle with him than see dirty laundry posted in court. That is what we call a frivolous lawsuit. It is filed not because it has merit, but because the simple act of filing gives the party some bargaining leverage.

Coach Mike L:each filed suit a few years ago when he was fired. He also argued wrongful termination, among other theories. I wrote about that lawsuit here. But ultimately, his lawsuit lost because state agencies are immune from lawsuits. Baylor does not enjoy similar immunity from suit.

The newspaper report describes Coach Briles’ lawsuit as typical of his “bare knuckled” approach to building a successful football program. It may be bare knuckled. But, it does not acknowledge responsibility for serious lapses on his watch. It also reflects no sense of honor regarding what was essentially his football program.