LSU sanctioned over missing texts in federal Title IX lawsuit; University says private lawyers are to blame
BATON ROUGE - LSU is being hit with sanctions after it was discovered the university failed to preserve text messages that were potentially vital to an ongoing sexual misconduct lawsuit linked to its tennis program.
The civil suit alleges that university-issued phones that once belonged to former tennis coaches Julia and Michael Sell were wiped after they left the school. The pair was accused of failing to act on reports of sexual assaults they received from students, and it further alleges the two encouraged others to ignore the abuse.
While the Sells were dismissed from the case last year, at least one plaintiff specifically cited texts with the Sells that they believed to be relevant to the case. After concerns were raised that texts and other electronic evidence might disappear, both parties entered a court agreement in 2021 to preserve electronically stored information relevant to the case.
Despite that agreement, the phones that were once issued to the Sells had been wiped by the time the university handed them over for inspection.
Though LSU argued that it took reasonable steps to preserve the electronic data, a federal judge ruled this past Friday that they didn't do enough.
LSU sent the following statement Monday evening:
We are disappointed in the court’s ruling. Former LSU employees Michael and Julia Sells were represented by their own counsel when this litigation began and at the time they returned the phones to LSU. It was incumbent upon their counsel to inform them of their obligations to preserve the data in their possession. LSU IT staff who received the devices testified that the phones were empty of all data when examined after their return. LSU took appropriate steps to protect data controlled by and in the possession of LSU.
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