No More Silence: Sharon Lewis’ Appeal Challenges LSU’s Alleged Concealment of Sexual Harassment Records

In a world where silence is often seen as an ally to the powerful, Sharon Lewis is saying, "No more". The long-standing assistant athletic director of football recruiting at LSU, Lewis has recently thrust herself into the limelight with an appeal that is as bold as it is controversial. She is challenging LSU's alleged concealment of records pertaining to sexual harassment, seeking to expose the truth and fight back against a culture of silence and repression.

Judge Carl E. Stewart
Lewis’ petition seeks a rehearing en banc, challenging the decision made by the three-judge panel, which included Chief Judge Carl E. Stewart.

Sharon Lewis, LSU’s former assistant athletic director for football recruiting, has requested a full-court review from the Fifth Circuit. This request follows its ruling that her bias suit did not plausibly demonstrate that university officials violated public records law by failing to disclose records of a sexual harassment investigation.

Lewis’ petition seeks a rehearing en banc, challenging the decision made by the three-judge panel, which included Chief Judge Carl E. Stewart.

The appeal, filed on July 1, argues that the panel’s ruling could potentially expose students to further harm and that the appellants lacked standing to file the appeal. This appeal was initially filed by Taylor Porter Brooks & Phillips LLP, a firm hired by LSU in 2013 to conduct a Title IX investigation into sexual harassment allegations.

The panel’s earlier ruling on June 17 determined that the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana had erred in its finding that Lewis had made a prima facie case showing that LSU’s board of supervisors may have violated the state’s public records law during an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment against the university’s former football coach, Les Miles.

The record in dispute, a student complaint memo from the investigation, was stored off campus at a law office. The panel ruled that this was not considered a public record “at the time of the alleged concealment” as it contained “privileged communication” and there was insufficient evidence to support the district court’s conclusion that university officials “actually concealed documents.”

Lewis strongly disputes this finding. The petition argues that allowing the university to “store Title IX investigations in their lawyers’ office” sets a dangerous precedent for sexual misconduct complaints and hinders the U.S. Department of Education from enforcing Title IX compliance on college campuses.

The petition states: “Thus, the panel’s opinion creates a new standard that will increase the risk of the nation’s college students to sexual harassment and sexual assault.” It further argues that this case exemplifies how harmful the panel’s opinion can be to the safety of college students.

Lewis’ petition alleges that by hiding its investigation findings, the university and its board could conceal that Miles allegedly sexualized student workers, sought out “victims” in sororities, and sexually harassed two students. This enabled such behavior to persist across the department, subjecting women to sexual harassment.

Lewis filed suit against the board of supervisors of Louisiana State University and others in April 2021, alleging a range of sex- and race-based discrimination and harassment at the university. She claimed that her termination and a promotion without a corresponding pay increase were retaliatory actions in response to her prior reports of discrimination and misconduct.

The Fifth Circuit panel’s June 17 decision was regarding a ruling made by U.S. District Judge Susie Morgan in March 2023, related to “a heated discovery” battle between Lewis and the LSU board. The panel disputed the district court’s conclusion regarding the testimony by an LSU board member that the board “chose to preserve the documents in the law offices of Taylor Porter to ‘stop [the Taylor Porter investigation] from becoming public information.'” Instead, the panel concluded that the testimony implied copies of certain documents were kept at the firm’s office to prevent the student who filed the complaint from being publicly identified.

Monday’s filing expressed serious concerns regarding the panel’s interpretation and questioned whether the panel had fully reviewed the record. The petition also argues that the panel lacked constitutional authority to hear the appeal, and that the appellants lacked standing to file it, as the case was closed on Jan. 4, rendering the issue moot.

The filing further argues, “Moreover, the appellants had no personal stake in the outcome of this case other than being embarrassed by their non-privileged communications with Miles attorneys.” It states that the panel’s opinion is in direct conflict with Fifth Circuit precedent.

Both parties’ legal representatives were unavailable for immediate comment. The case, Lewis v. Crochet et al., is currently registered as case number 23-30386 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. The ruling that is being appealed was in Lewis v. Board of Supervisors of Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College, registered as case number 3:21-cv-00198 in the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana.

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Todd Horne

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