Former Emporia prof says student falsely accused him of sexual harassment: lawsuit

A former Emporia State University professor accused of trying to kiss an international student in 2016 is now suing the university.

Brian Schrader says the university conducted an unfair investigation after, he says, he was falsely accused by a student who was facing possible expulsion for academic misconduct.

In a lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for Kansas last week, Shrader said he eventually had “no alternative but to resign” in December 2018.

Emporia State University said it would not comment on pending litigation.

According to the suit, Schrader met with a student, referred to as J.J., in May 2017 after discovering that the student had cheated on a second homework assignment that semester.

During the meeting, the suit says, J.J. began to cry and Schrader handed her a tissue.

“In doing so, their fingers briefly and lightly touched,” the suit says.

In February 2018 J.J. told the Emporia State University Bulletin that the professor held her hand and rubbed his thumb on her hand for several minutes while handing her the tissue.

J.J. went on to tell the Bulletin that Schrader suggested they go elsewhere and took her down the hallway into a storage room where he tried to kiss her.

Schrader disputes these claims in the suit.

“J.J.’s demeanor abruptly changed when she learned that there were severe consequences to her academic misconduct that she could not avoid and then left the meeting clearly upset,” the suit says.

After J.J. submitted a sexual harassment complaint to the university, both individuals were asked to sign a non-retaliation and confidentiality agreement, according to the suit.

The report filed on the the investigation was “filled with inaccuracies” and included the Title IX investigator Lisa Moritz’s personal theories that “are unsupported by facts or reasonable inferences about what occurred,” the suit says.

Emporia State’s human resources director, Ray Lauber, released a summary of findings in July 2017 based on Moritz’s report, concluding that there was a preponderance of evidence that Schrader had sexually harassed J.J.

According to the suit “Lauber had an open conflict of interest in the matter” because of a 2012 event that caused him to harbor a bias against Schrader.

The suit does not explain what occurred in 2012.

Despite Lauber’s report, the suit says, a committee of university faculty found in November 2017 that Schrader did not sexually harass J.J.

Despite this, the suit says, Emporia State President Allison Garrett wrote him a letter in December 2017 saying she agreed with the faculty committee’s conclusion but imposed five years of sanctions.

In February 2018 J.J. violated the confidentiality agreement and stories about the investigation were published in the Emporia State Bulletin, according the suit.

In March, Schrader was placed on administrative leave because of a second sexual harassment complaint against him.

Schrader was allegedly only told the initials of the student, the date the harassment began, and that he had given the accuser gifts.

The suit says the investigation of the complaint was not impartial and that Schrader ultimately had no choice but to resign in December 2018.

Brett Sokolow, president of the Association of Title IX Administrators, said the university’s approach to the allegation seemed to follow normal practices.

When professors are accused of this type of behavior they are subject to a Title IX investigation, which leads to a recommendation of action. Before a professor is removed, however, they are entitled to due process and a hearing.

Because of the nature of the case, Sokolow said, Title IX administrators must determine who they think is most credible.

“This is an absolute ‘he said she said,’” Sokolow said. “In a situation like that the investigator is going to do a lot of editorializing generally.”

Schrader said he has not been able to get a job at another university because of the allegations.

Emporia State University is listed as a defendant in the suit alongside Lauber, Moritz, Garrett, Provost David Cortle, and Bulletin advisor Max McCoy.

Schrader is suing for “reverse sex discrimination,” violations of the 5th and 14th Amendments, tortious interference with prospective contractual relationship or expectancy, blacklisting, and constructive discharge.

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Katie Bernard covers Kansas crime, cops and courts for the Kansas City Star. She joined the Star in May of 2019. Katie studied journalism and political science at the University of Kansas.