If every other egregious example of a male student denied due process after being accused of sexual misconduct gets ignored – this one should not be.
A male student who was accused of sexual harassment committed suicide just days after the University of Texas at Arlington ignored its own policies in order to punish him. The accused student’s father, a lawyer acting as the administrator of his son’s estate, is now suing the school for violating his son’s Title IX rights.
College administrators, as well as members of the media and legislators, would do well to remember the name Thomas Klocke. Klocke, a straight male, was accused by a gay male student of writing anti-gay slurs on his computer during a class. Klocke vehemently denied the accusation, and administrators who investigated the incident acknowledged there was no evidence to support the accuser’s claims, yet Klocke was still punished.
The accusing student, who is being sued by Klocke’s father for defamation, claims that in May 2016, Klocke made a comment during a class about “privilege,” and then proceeded to open his laptop and type “gays should die” into his web browser’s search bar. The accuser (who is not being named because Watchdog was unable to contact him for comment) claims he typed into his own browser search bar, “I’m gay.”
The accuser next claimed that Klocke feigned a yawn and said under his breath: “Well, then you’re a faggot.” The accuser says he told Klocke he should leave the class, to which Klocke allegedly responded: “You should consider killing yourself.”
The accuser claims he was made so uncomfortable by the exchange that he waited until the end of class and spoke to the professor, who allegedly told him to contact student support services. There is no documentation to suggest the professor was interviewed in the course of the investigation in order to corroborate the accuser’s claims. The attorney for Klocke’s father, Kenneth Chaiken, told Watchdog the professor never provided a witness statement, suggesting he was never asked what he saw that day.
Not following procedure
Klocke insisted that what happened in that mid-May class in 2016 was completely different than what the accuser claimed. Klocke said his accuser made unwelcome sexual advances toward him. Klocke rejected the advances, telling his eventual accuser that he was straight. The lawsuit suggests that this rejection led the accuser to make up his story, possibly out of fear that he himself could be accused of sexual misconduct.
Instead of seeking support services, the accuser reached out to Associate Vice President of Student Affairs Heather Snow, with whom he had a friendly relationship. The accuser was close enough to Snow to refer to her by her first name at times, and Snow quickly became the accuser’s advocate, helping him to draft a complaint against Klocke and conducting the disciplinary procedure without following the school’s Title IX policies.
The lawsuit alleges that UTA’s Title IX coordinator was not informed of the allegation, even though Snow suggested it constituted sexual harassment. This is a violation of UTA’s policies regarding sexual misconduct, which state complaints “should be made to the Title IX Coordinator or Deputy Coordinators.” Snow was neither.
Further, UTA’s Title IX policies state that the Title IX coordinator is responsible for overseeing the investigation and assigning an investigator. The investigator must then produce a report based on facts gathered and present it to the Title IX coordinator and deputy coordinator before any hearing.
Klocke received no hearing, even though he contradicted his accuser’s claims. Had Snow properly reported the complaint to the Title IX coordinator, Klocke would have received necessary protections from the school. By doing things on her own terms, Snow was able to deny Klocke his rights as stated in UTA policy.
Snow took control of the disciplinary procedure that involved a complaint she wrote herself. She enlisted the help of UTA’s associate director of academic integrity, Daniel Moore, and had him tell Klocke he was immediately prohibited from attending the class where the incident was alleged to have occurred. Klocke was completing the course as part of a short, pre-summer semester in order to graduate that summer.
When Klocke was informed that an accusation had been lodged against him, he was not told the name of his accuser. Klocke was also informed that he could not contact anyone in the class, directly or indirectly, effectively denying him any ability to find witnesses to corroborate his story.
His accuser was able to remain in the class and find witnesses. He found only one, who didn’t corroborate his account but did say he overheard someone say “you should leave.” This could have been said by either Klocke or his accuser in either of their stories.
Klocke told Moore he needed to attend the class and asked for more information about the accusation against him. Moore ignored this request but sent Klocke a “summons letter” on May 20. The lawsuit alleges Moore never informed Klocke that this was a Title IX investigation (as Moore usually handled academic issues) or Klocke’s rights under Title IX.
Moore also never told Klocke that he would not be allowed a hearing. He was never informed that Snow – who was not an impartial party – was running the show, even helping Moore determine a punishment.
Klocke was charged with violating Title IX based solely on the accusation. He was charged with two violations: physical abuse or threat thereof and a non-specific violation of the school’s anti-harassment policy. It should be noted that the accuser never claimed Klocke was physical or threatened physical harm.
By charging Klocke in this manner, UTA further violated its own policies, which state that charges are supposed to come after an investigation and hearing, and after the accused has had a chance to present witnesses in his defense.
The accuser’s report, written in whole or part by Snow, was described as “a statement of evidence” against Klocke. Klocke was not provided a list of witnesses, even though Moore’s summons letter said he would do so.
Moore’s letter informed Klocke that he could be expelled over the accusation, though UTA policy states that accused students facing such punishment have the right to a hearing (which Klocke was denied).
Klocke met with Moore on May 23, 2016. Klocke brought his father, Wayne, an attorney, but was told Wayne could not stay. Moore did not tell Klocke that his father would be allowed to stay if Klocke waived confidentiality.
Wayne’s attorneys deposed Snow and Moore ahead of filing the lawsuit, and received documents from UTA regarding Klocke’s case.
Notes from Moore’s meeting with Klocke indicate the accused student said he didn’t know the name of his accuser prior to the incident, and wondered how the accuser knew his name. Klocke also told his side of the story, claiming his accuser sat next to him that day in class and called Klocke beautiful. Klocke said he typed into his browser “Stop – I’m straight,” to which his accuser replied: “I’m gay.”
Klocke further said his accuser kept glancing at him, so he asked him to “stop.” He denied faking a yawn and said he was the one to ask his accuser to leave. His accuser began typing on his phone and laughing, which Klocke found distracting, so he moved across the room about 30 to 45 minutes into class. Klocke denied typing any slurs into his web browser.
Despite learning that Klocke may have been the victim of sexual harassment, no investigation was conducted and Klocke was not told he should file a report.
After the meeting, Moore informed Klocke that he needed to go to a private room to take an exam for the class he was not allowed to attend. Since Klocke had not been allowed to attend class in the prior days, he was unaware of some of the test material, and thus did poorly. Moore also told Klocke he could continue working on group projects outside of class, but couldn’t attend the class itself.
Moore informed Klocke he would be speaking to a witness and would decide Klocke’s fate after. UTA Policy 9 states that disputed accusations and charges that could result in expulsion shall include a hearing. Again, Klocke was denied this.
On May 24, 2016, Moore and Snow discussed the case. Snow asked if Klocke acknowledged the behavior he was accused of, to which Moore replied: “not at all.” He told Snow the students had completely different accounts of the incident in question, but did not tell Snow what Klocke’s story was.
Moore also told Snow he didn’t have enough evidence to keep Klocke out of class. Snow agreed, saying “there isn’t enough to go off of” and said Klocke should be allowed back in the class with a mutual no-contact order with his accuser. Instead, Moore said he would look for another way to keep Klocke out of the class, and Snow told him to see if the class would be offered later in the summer. This, the lawsuit states, effectively confirmed “that Thomas not only should remain excluded from the classroom, but that he should be excluded from the Course altogether, despite the fact there was not enough to go off of, to keep Thomas out of the classroom.”
Moore reported back to Snowe that he “worked it out” to keep Klocke out of the class. Snow said it seemed like a “good resolution.”
Moore sent Klocke a letter the next day, on May 25, stating that Klocke had been found responsible for harassment (even though Moore and Snow acknowledged there was no evidence to support this claim). Klocke was placed on disciplinary probation for the remainder of his time at UTA, and would have this on his disciplinary record.
It was never explained to Klocke why he was found responsible when there was no evidence.
“This is a tragic situation and we express our deepest condolences to the family for their loss,” the university said in a statement to Watchdog. “The welfare of our students is our highest priority. Any loss is a heartbreaking one for our entire community.
“The university followed its policies and procedures. This is now the subject of a lawsuit in federal court; therefore, we are unable to respond further at this time,” the statement said.
‘The most tragic outcome’
Chaiken, the attorney who filed that lawsuit, told Watchdog that someone informed Klocke that this disciplinary record could keep him out of grad school, which Klocke had planned to attend after graduation in the summer.
Just days after Klocke was punished, he took his own life. Had Snow and Moore followed proper UTA policy, Klocke might never have been punished in the first place, as he would have been allowed a hearing to present evidence in his defense.
Klocke’s father alleges his son was discriminated against because he was a male accused student, and that Snow and Moore selectively enforced UTA’s Title IX procedures.
Klocke had no prior history of mental health problems, and by all accounts was happy and looking forward to the future after graduation. In a statement to Watchdog, Chaiken expressed the importance of a fair investigation.
“When a college violates the legal rights of a student accused of misconduct, and its own rules for addressing such a complaint, the accused student can suffer life altering consequences,” he said in an email. “The important case of Klocke v. University of Texas at Arlington illustrates just how quickly and arbitrarily a college can act, leading to the most tragic outcome from the unimaginable stress and pain that an unfairly treated, accused student can suffer. It also serves to underscore why reforms in the campus disciplinary process are so necessary, as recently recommended by the American College of Trial Lawyers, and why accountability through the judicial process may help to promote those reforms.”
UPDATE: This story was updated to add a comment from the university.