Monday, June 18, 2018

Judge: UWO can release investigation of former coach

Photo by Miles Maguire
A local judge said UW Oshkosh can release an investigative report on a former volleyball coach.
By Miles Maguire

UW Oshkosh can release a redacted report of an investigation into alleged sexual harassment and relationship violence by a former volleyball coach, a circuit judge ruled Monday.

Brian Schaefer, who coached men’s and women’s teams at the school for over a decade, has sought to keep the report under wraps. He resigned last summer after a highly successful tenure at UWO.

Schaefer’s departure followed a university investigation into allegations that he had violated policies pertaining to “sexual harassment and relationship violence,” according to court documents.

“The university eventually concluded that there was a violation of the former policy but not the latter,” an attorney for Schaefer said in a brief arguing that the coach’s personnel records should not be released.

“The disclosure of the investigation report in its current form would bring to light activities which the plaintiff considers private, unknown, and damaging to his reputation, to include facts pertaining to his sexual orientation that are private,” the lawyer said.

In another filing the lawyer referred to “allegations of homosexuality, which will harm [Schaefer’s] reputation and make it difficult for him to be rehired for certain positions.”

But in deciding to release the investigative report, Judge Daniel J. Bissett noted that Wisconsin has a “strong public policy of open records involving public employees.” Higher courts that have ruled on this issue “have indicated that public employees should expect closer public scrutiny,” Bissett said.

Schaefer’s lawyer said information that the university planned to release “was gathered and obtained based on an express and/or implied promise of confidentiality.” The university made no mention of the investigation when it announced the coach’s departure last year.

Schaefer “stepped down as head coach of the Titans to pursue other opportunities,” the university said at the time.

The coach had enjoyed a stellar reputation. His  women’s teams had a .755 winning percentage, and his men’s squads, which played in a club league, recorded a winning percentage of .828, according to web accounts. Individual players had also flourished, winning positions on numerous all-star teams.

Along the way Schaefer acquired the nickname of “Lumpy,” based on a perceived resemblance to a character on the “Leave It to Beaver” television series.

“I am proud of whom I was as a player and head coach,” Schaefer said on the website of the men’s team after his resignation. “Although far from perfect, I believe I put everything I had into what I did on a daily basis and strongly believe I never put myself first and was humble in everything I did.”

The circumstances of Schaefer’s departure have become known because of a sweeping public records request filed by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to obtain information about sexual assault and sexual harassment complaints against supervisors and instructors throughout the UW System.

According to court records, the system turned over information on “seven matters” that involved UW Oshkosh employees, most of whom still work at the school.

As part of the records release process, state employees whose personnel records may be made public are alerted and notified of their right to seek an injunction.  Schaefer asked the court to intervene on April 20.

“The confidential investigation report contains information that is not ‘publicly known’ or ‘well-corroborated’ and also contains statements from witnesses that could potentially be false or bias [sic],” Schaefer’s lawyer wrote in a brief.  

Parts of the original report have been redacted, but the lawyer said that the document still includes troublesome information about Schaefer’s activities.  

“Some of those activities were described as consensual, some of them were refuted as false, some of them were entirely private in nature, and some of them were admitted to, not only by the plaintiff but other witnesses,” the lawyer said. “The report does not redact statements that are known to be false or bias [sic],” he added.

But Bissett said that he had reviewed the redacted investigative report and found that the redactions were consistent with legislative intent and the relevant case law on handling public records.

The redacted report remains under seal, pending the possibility of an appeal. Schaefer will have 45 days to ask for higher court review after a written order is issued by Bissett.

Schaefer did not respond to a request for a comment. UWO said that it had nothing to add to a previously stated commitment to “safety, justice and support for survivors.”

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