Student sues Louisiana State over harassment investigation

LOUISIANA — A student filed a lawsuit against Louisiana StateUniversity on Jan. 31, alleging the school’s handling of a harassmentinvestigation violated his rights to free speech, due process of law, andprivacy under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.

The plaintiff, Patrick Esfeller, a junior at Louisiana State, has been atodds with the university since November 2006, when the school’s Office ofJudicial Affairs was investigating accusations that he was harassing hisex-girlfriend, also a student.

Esfeller’s suit alleges that school officials threatened him with additional charges after he discussed details of the investigation with the student newspaper, The Daily Reveille, in January 2007. He said he contacted the paper because he felt the school was conducting its inquiry unfairly.

In March, the school opened a second investigation into the complaints against Esfeller. Esfeller said Rosemary Blum, the associate director for Judicial Affairs, told him the second investigation was opened in response to his concerns about the fairness of the first inquiry.

Esfeller, who currently is on disciplinary probation, said he decided tofile the lawsuit, in U.S. District Court in the Middle District of Louisiana,after he exhausted all options of appealing the university’s charges against himwithin the student judicial system.

“There was no original intention of filing a lawsuit,” he said. “I neverwanted it to go this far.”

Sharyon Lipscomb, director of Human Resource Management for the LSU system,said Wednesday that the school had not yet been served with the lawsuit.

K.C. White, assistant vice chancellor and dean of students, declined tocomment on the judicial affairs investigations against Esfeller, citing theprivacy rights of the parties involved. But White said the university aims tosafeguard students’ rights in all its investigations.

According to Esfeller’s suit, Judicial Affairs violated Esfeller’s dueprocess rights when the office scheduled a hearing in summer 2007 at a time whenhe could not attend because of work and financial reasons.

The lawsuit also claims the harassment charges brought against Esfellerwere based on a university regulation that is too vague and overbroad, violatinghis free speech and due process rights.

The regulation prohibits “extreme, outrageous or persistent acts, orcommunications that are intended or reasonably likely to harass, intimidate,harm, or humiliate another.”

And the suit alleges Judicial Affairs violated Esfeller’s privacy rightsunder FERPA when officials revealed information about the results of his hearingto his ex-girlfriend and when school officials contacted his child care facilitywhile looking into allegations made by his ex-girlfriend — which Esfeller denies — that he abused one of his children.

CORRECTION, Feb. 7, 2008: An earlier version of this article misstated the sequence of events that led to the opening of the second inquiry into the complaints against Esfeller. It also omitted that Esfeller denies the allegations that he abused one of his children. The SPLC regrets the errors.