Cleveland County District Judge Thad Balkman this afternoon denied a motion to dismiss the University of Oklahoma from a lawsuit brought by University Club employee Levi Hilliard regarding alleged sexual battery by a former high-ranking administrator.
In September, Hilliard filed his lawsuit alleging sexual misconduct by former OU Vice President for Development Tripp Hall and negligence by the university.
Represented by attorney Rand Eddy, Hilliard seeks damages for allegations of sexual assault and battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress by Hall. Hiliard says Hall touched or kissed him multiple times while Hilliard was working events for the University Club restaurant as a waiter and bartender.
Before being terminated by OU in November 2018, Hall served on the University Club’s board of directors. Hilliard named OU in the lawsuit, alleging negligence in how his supervisors and other university administrators responded to his report of unwanted physical touching by Hall.
“I’m going to deny the university’s motion,” Balkman said after about 20 minutes of oral argument. “I’m also going to deny the university’s motion with regard to the claims of the statute of limitations.”
Representing OU on a contracted basis, Michael Burrage had moved that the university be dismissed from the lawsuit and said only one action alleged by Hilliard fell within the statute of limitations. Burrage also said Hilliard works for the University Club — a 501c3 organization — and referenced a series of court precedents where schools and institutions were given immunity under the Governmental Tort Claims Act.
“I don’t want to bore the court with the details of those cases, but they all deal with carrying out policies and procedures, which is what we have here,” Burrage said.
Eddy, however, said an Oklahoma Supreme Court decision stood as the prevailing precedent.
“The employer has a duty to protect an employee from a dangerous act,” Eddy said.
Balkman did rule Hilliard’s pursuit of punitive damages against OU as impermissible.
Hall attorney ‘pretty confident’ suit will be dismissed
Hilliard, who still works as an employee of the University Club, was concise when asked his reaction to Balkman’s decision Thursday.
“We’re just going to have to see what happens moving forward,” he said.
Rand Eddy had more to say.
“We’re going to get after discovery, start taking some depositions, find out more about the facts of the case and prepare for trial,” Eddy said.
Eddy also represents OU student Andrew Wisdom who has also sued Hall, claiming he performed oral sex on him without his consent.
“It’s pretty egregious conduct, and that’s why we brought the lawsuits,” Eddy said. “We’re going to think about issues of judicial economy and see if we can get the cases consolidated and get the cases before this judge, both of them.”
Tulsa attorney Clark Brewster represents Hall and described Thursday’s hearing as “an early challenge to the legal sufficiency of the bare complaint itself.”
“The court is not supposed to go beyond the complaint. It’s supposed to assume the complaint in favor of the plaintiff that it is true and accurate and factual,” Brewster said. “So the court is very limited in its review of this kind of motion. But he invited and expects a motion for summary judgment after there are depositions taken and we can lay down certain facts that will give the underpinning (…) for a motion to dismiss.”
Brewster said he has doubts about the consistency of Hilliard’s statements chronicled in text messages, and he said Hall’s communications to the OU graduate did not involve “any sexual innuendo.”
“I’m pretty confident that it will ultimately get dismissed on behalf of the university for sure and also on Mr. Hall as well,” Brewster said. “But we will slog forward, take the depositions and put the facts before the judge, and I think we will get a fair opportunity for his decision-making.”
Brewster said Hall never had sexual relations with an OU student, such as Wisdom.
“It didn’t happen,” Brewster said. “I am not aware of a single instance or anyone that has ever said that.”
Background on Levi Hilliard lawsuit
Hilliard’s lawsuit against Hall and the University of Oklahoma arose after his allegations became public in the spring of 2019.
Through Brewster, Hall has denied the allegations of Hilliard and Wisdom. Jess Eddy, the son of Rand Eddy, has also alleged that Hall touched his crotch on a trip to Houston in 2010. Jess Eddy has alleged that former OU President David Boren also made him uncomfortable with unwanted sexual contact.
Boren is represented by Brewster as well. The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is looking into the allegations against Hall and Boren.