After a male student committed suicide, his bereaved father is suing the University of Texas at Arlington, claiming administrators discriminated against him and unjustly punished him for sexual misconduct.
Administrators had put Thomas Klocke on disciplinary probation, barring him from attending class. The investigation and punishment caused the student “immense embarrassment, the destruction of his reputation, and severe mental anguish and pain,” all factors that “causally led” to his suicide on June 2, 2016, the lawsuit alleges.
In the weeks before Klocke’s death, a gay classmate, Nicolas Watson, claimed the 24-year-old student had hurled homophobic abuse at him, called him a “faggot,” and told him to “consider killing yourself” during a heated exchange in a lecture theater.
Klocke denied this account, claiming he had simply rejected sexual advances from Watson.
Klocke’s father, Wayne Klocke, filed the lawsuit against both the university and Watson, who he claims defamed his son.
The complaint says the University of Texas officials abandoned due process and even the scant protections the accused should expect under Title IX. They punished Klocke without a proper investigation, making their decision “based solely on Watson’s bare, unsupported, reported allegations,” the complaint claims.
To avoid losing federal funding and negative publicity, the complaint says, the university has “a vested interest in enacting swift and harsh punishment (almost always upon males) who are merely accused of sexual harassment, sexual violence, or aggressive behavior.”
Consequently, the university “discriminated against Thomas based on his gender and status as an accused male aggressor,” the complaint says.
The lawsuit claims that what should have been a formal Title IX probe—including investigators and the opportunity for Klocke to defend himself—was circumvented in favor of a biased hit-job to secure quick punishment.
The suit claims that the university carried out its own, largely evidence-free investigation, motivated in part by the fact that Watson is friends with a senior university administrator, who allegedly helped push his case.
Administrators sent Klocke a summons on May 20, charging him with violating the university’s conduct code on two counts: harassment and physical abuse or threat of physical abuse.
Klocke wasn’t given a chance to offer his side of the story before administrators found him guilty of harassment and punished him accordingly. Less than two weeks later, Klocke killed himself.
Kenneth Chaiken, the lawyer representing Klocke’s family, said the case is “about due process and fairness.”
“There needs to be an awareness of the devastating outcomes when fairness isn’t there,” Chaiken said last week.
In a statement, the University of Texas said: “This is a tragic situation, and we express our deepest condolences to the family for their loss. The welfare of our students is our highest priority. Any loss is a heartbreaking one for our entire community.”
The university also said administrators had followed proper practices and procedures, declining to comment further because of the ongoing lawsuit.
— Jillian Kay Melchior writes for Heat Street and is a fellow for the Steamboat Institute and the Independent Women’s Forum.