By JIM VERTUNO
Baylor University has settled a years-long federal lawsuit brought by 15 women who alleged they were sexually assaulted at the nation’s biggest Baptist school, ending the largest case brought in a wide-ranging scandal that led to the ouster of the university president and its football coach, and tainted the school’s reputation.
Notification of the settlement was filed in online court records Monday. The lawsuit was first filed in June 2016.
The lawsuit was one of several that were filed that alleged staff and administrators ignored or stifled reports from women who said they were assaulted on or near campus.
Among the early claims from some women in the lawsuit was that school officials sometimes used the campus conduct code that banned alcohol, drugs and premarital sex to pressure women not to report being attacked. Another previously settled lawsuit alleged Baylor fostered a “hunting ground for sexual predators.”
The terms of the settlement announced Monday were not disclosed.
“We are deeply sorry for anyone connected with the Baylor community who has been harmed by sexual violence. While we can never erase the reprehensible acts of the past, we pray that this agreement will allow these 15 survivors to move forward in a supportive manner,” Baylor University said in a statement.
The scandal erupted in 2015 and 2016 with assault allegations made against football players. The school hired Philadelphia law firm Pepper Hamilton to investigate how it handled those assaults and others.
The law firm’s report determined that under the leadership of school President Ken Starr, Baylor did little to respond to accusations of sexual assault involving football players over several years. It also raised broader questions of how the school responded to sexual assault claims across campus.
Starr, the former prosecutor who led the investigation of the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, was removed as president and later left the university. Starr died in 2022.
Also fired was football coach Art Briles, who denied he covered up sexual violence in his program. Briles had led the program to a Big 12 conference championship, but he has not returned to major-college coaching.
Baylor officials have said the school has made sweeping changes to how it addresses sexual assault claims and victims in response to the Pepper Hamilton report. That report has never been fully released publicly, despite efforts by the women suing the school to force it into the open.
Chad Dunn, an attorney for the women who settled Monday, said the lawsuit and scandal went far beyond the problems in the football program that captured early attention.
“Their bravery and strength has created legal precedents that empower others to gain relief from the injuries inflicted by their universities, while also securing safer education environments for future generations,” Dunn said.
“Baylor’s focus of media attention on football tried to misdirect attention from institutional failures of the Baylor administration. Our clients would have none of that,” Dunn said. “Their determination brought the focus on officials in the ivory tower and ‘the Baylor way.’ ”