WKU Sues Student Newspaper Over Access to Records on Employee Sexual Misconduct

Mar 1, 2017

Western Kentucky University has filed a lawsuit against its student newspaper, arguing that the school is not required to release records related to sexual misconduct by university employees.

The WKU lawsuit against the College Heights Herald comes after a decision by Kentucky Attorney General Andy Beshear in January that the university is required to release Title IX records about investigations of sexual harassment by employees. The names and any other personal identifiers were to be redacted.

The lawsuit was filed in Warren Circuit Court by Kerrick Bachert, the law firm representing the university.

Michael Abate of the law firm Kaplan and Partners is representing the College Heights Herald.

“We think here in this in this case that the paper was absolutely entitled to receive these documents," Abate said. "And we think it’s incredibly unfortunate that it has come to a point where the university is suing its own student paper over conducting important and essential journalism meant to protect the students.”

Attorney Thomas Kerrick said in a statement that the university's position is based on a ruling in Fayette Circuit Court in January that the records are not subject to the Open Records law because even in redacted form, they would not offer privacy to those who had filed the complaints.  That case involved the Herald and the University of Kentucky student newspaper, the Kentucky Kernel. Kerrick said the records requested by the College Heights Herald are nearly identical to the ones in the previous case.

Kerrick said, "WKU's controversy is with the Attorney General decision, rather than with the College Heights Herald or Kernel; however, pursuant to Kentucky law, the Attorney General cannot be named as a party in such appeals. Therefore, WKU had to commence this lawsuit against the College Heights Herald and the Kernel to protect the educational records and privacy rights of complaining witnesses/students under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act."