A sexual harassment complaint at Michigan State University — which led to the firing of Mel Tucker, one of college football’s top coaches — was made public for the first time because the woman behind it complaint learned that details about his case had circulated in local media.
Three months after Tucker’s ouster, an outside law firm hired by the school concluded that it could not determine whether university officials were responsible for leaking those details.
But investigators said a member of the university’s board of trustees failed to cooperate with their investigation and withheld relevant information. They also said that a subsequent email about the affair was indeed leaked, by a member of a small circle of senior officials.
The investigation report, released Friday, is the latest development in the case of rape survivor and activist Brenda Tracy. Tracy’s allegations that Tucker harassed her were first made public in a USA TODAY investigation earlier this year.
She said that after hiring her to speak to the football team about sexual violence, Tucker masturbated during a phone call with her in April 2022 and made off-color comments and overtures to her. sexual.
The university fired him for cause in September, three weeks after USA TODAY’s investigation, voiding the roughly $80 million remaining on his 10-year contract. In October, an outside attorney hired by the university found Tucker liable for sexual harassment and exploitation. Tucker appealed the decision and a final decision is expected in early January.
Athletic director Alan Haller and other MSU officials said they knew a complaint had been filed against Tucker, but did not know the details until reading about it in the newspapers. Only the school’s Title IX office was supposed to know the details of the case — a best practice adopted by the university to prevent school leaders from trying to influence the outcome.
Tracy and her attorney alleged that details of her complaint were improperly disclosed by the MSU Board of Trustees. MSU then hired an outside law firm, Jones Day, to investigate.
“MS. Tracy is not surprised that MSU’s internal investigation failed to definitively identify the leak,” her attorney, Karen Truszkowski, said in a statement after Friday’s release of the 13-year-old investigation report. pages. “There is clearly a leak. We look forward to conducting a thorough and independent investigation to identify the source.”
Brenda Tracy’s sexual harassment case
Tracy filed a complaint against Tucker with the school’s Title IX office in December 2022 and first told USA TODAY about the matter in May. At the time, she said she planned to go public with her story once the case was over.
In early September, USA TODAY Network reporters in Michigan heard Tracy’s name and specific details about the case. Without identifying these sources, USA TODAY relayed the information to Tracy, who agreed to publish her story.
Shortly after USA TODAY’s Sept. 10 report, Tracy’s attorney, Karen Truszkowski, sent an email to the school’s general counsel accusing a board member of leaking the Tracy’s name to people outside of MSU.
This email also became the subject of the Jones Day investigation. Investigators wrote that they were convinced that one of 13 people on MSU’s board of trustees or administration leaked Truszkowski’s email to a reporter for The State News, the student newspaper at university, but were unable to identify the culprit.
The remainder of the investigation focused on university administrators and others who may have had access to the confidential complaint. He noted that only one person, trustee Dennis Denno, had not cooperated.
Mel Tucker leak investigation
Denno was the only one of the eight administrators who refused to be interviewed by investigators or turn over his phone for examination. Investigators said that while they have no reason to believe Denno’s phone could prove that an administrator leaked Tracy’s identity, they believe it could contain evidence that someone outside of MSU, “Individual A,” knew the details of the case before they were made public. But Denno and Individual A both declined multiple interview requests, according to the report.
Denno did not return a voicemail or text message seeking comment Friday.
“Maintaining privacy during our investigations of relationship violence and sexual misconduct is of the utmost importance, and we take this commitment very seriously,” said Michigan State Acting President, Teresa Woodruff, in a press release. “It is disappointing to learn that a potential breach has occurred and although no source has been identified, we understand the importance of trust and are committed to working with integrity in every case.”
The state of Michigan paid more than $500,000 to Jones Day and another law firm during their first two months of work on the leak investigation, the Lansing State Journal reported. The other firm, Quinn Emmanuel, personally represented MSU Board of Trustees Chair Rema Vassar and billed the university more than $200,000.
At a board meeting this month, Vassar said she was “pleased” that the Jones Day investigation had “exonerated” her.
“The Board takes OIE investigations seriously and this report demonstrates the Board’s commitment to confidentiality as an essential element of this process,” Vassar said in Friday’s press release.
Jones Day investigators reviewed emails, text messages and photos on the phones of seven of the eight directors and found no documentary evidence linking any of them to the alleged leaks. Investigators interviewed 52 witnesses, including three dozen university employees, all of whom denied sharing confidential information about the harassment case with anyone outside the university except some of their spouses .
The investigation found that at least 44 people associated with Michigan State, including all eight administrators, were aware of the investigation into its football coach. Most knew this because it was related to their job duties. MSU general counsel Brian Quinn also disclosed “background information” about the complaint against Tucker to the eight administrators, the report said, but did not provide Tracy’s name or factual details of her allegations.
Tracy spoke about the affair to some reporters from USA TODAY and ESPN, as well as an Oregon sports columnist, the report confirmed. Other reporters told Jones Day investigators that they deduced Tracy’s identity without anyone providing her name based on the details they learned.
The Jones Day investigation did not “exonerate” the university, said Truszkowski, Tracy’s attorney — it “simply could not prove the source of the leak by a preponderance of the evidence.”
“This is not a surprise given that Administrator Denno refused to cooperate with the investigation,” Truszkowksi said.
The Jones Day report says it will reopen its investigation if new information comes to light.
Kenny Jacoby is an investigative reporter for USA TODAY covering sexual harassment and violence and Title IX. Contact him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on@kennyjacoby.
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