Attorneys: OSU requires speedy reporting of domestic violence charges

Ohio State’s Urban Meyer shouts to his players during a game against Michigan State on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, at Ohio Stadium in Columbus. David Jablonski/Staff
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Ohio State’s Urban Meyer shouts to his players during a game against Michigan State on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2017, at Ohio Stadium in Columbus. David Jablonski/Staff

Ohio State University’s policies require employees to report allegations of sexual misconduct — including relationship violence — within five working days of becoming aware of the allegations, said an attorney who practices in education law.

Mark Weiker, a Columbus attorney who practices education law with the firm of Albeit Weiker LLP, said that when it comes to these kinds of situations, we have to separate a private company’s obligations from a public university’s obligations.

But Ohio State’s own policies appear clear: The university expects employees who become aware of allegations of domestic violence within the OSU community to quickly report those charges, Weiker said.

“You have a reporting obligation because they’re trying to keep the environment free of sexual misconduct and harassment,” Weiker said.

The questions Ohio State University must try to answer now: Did former OSU Assistant Football Coach Zach Smith commit domestic violence against his ex-wife? And did head Coach Urban Meyer -- now on administrative leave from the university -- receive information on those allegations?

Chris Conard, a Dayton attorney with the firm of Coolidge Law, also pointed to OSU’s policies on relationship violence.

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“Here’s the bottom line: When an employee of the university is faced with or becomes aware of a situation that potentially fits within the Title 9 parameters, or within the university policy, they are far better off to err on the side of reporting the information,” Conard said.

Title 9 is a federal anti-sex discrimination statute.

Weiker expects OSU to take its time, conduct a thorough investigation and treat both coaches fairly.

“They need to investigate the situation and see if, No. 1, there are violations by the assistant coach — which has not been determined, at least publicly — and No. 2, see if there’s a reporting obligation,” he said.

On Wednesday, OSU released a statement saying it is investigating the matter.

“During the inquiry, Urban Meyer will be on paid administrative leave,” OSU said. “Ryan Day will serve as acting head football coach during the investigation. We are focused on supporting our players and on getting to the truth as expeditiously as possible.”

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Messages seeking comment were sent to OSU representatives Thursday.

Zack Smith’s ex-wife Courtney Smith told college football reporter Brett McMurphy Wednesday that she believed all of the OSU coaches’ wives knew of her ex-husband’s actions.

Shelley Meyer, Urban's wife and a nursing instructor at Ohio State, was among the coaches' wives who knew of the incidents, Courtney Smith has said.

Courtney Smith is not an Ohio State employee, and the alleged incidents did not happen on the OSU campus.

A private company’s obligations in these situations depend on that company’s policies — and companies outline their own obligations, Weiker said.

A public university is different — especially if it receives federal funds. Those universities have obligations under Title 9, he said.

Ohio State’s policy is typical of a university that gets federal funds, Weiker said. The university appears to have adopted policies that mirror Title 9’s obligations, he said.

Reading directly from the university’s own policies, Weiker said: “It says at the top, ‘The university community seeks to eliminate sexual misconduct through education and by encouraging everyone to report concerns or complaints — including third-parties when the accused is a member of the university community.”

“Again, pretty clear,” Weiker added. “This includes relationship violence and domestic violence.”

The ultimate sanction for the university is loss of federal funding. But Weiker said that’s rare, if not unheard of.

At this point, Weiker thinks OSU took the right step by placing Meyer on administrative leave while it conducts an investigation.

Weiker said he does not represent the university or Meyer, and he said he has no personal knowledge of these events.