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Virginia Tech breached confidentiality with cadet lawsuit statement, lawyers say

Virginia Tech breached confidentiality with cadet lawsuit statement, lawyers say

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The Roanoke Times

ROANOKE — Lawyers who sued Virginia Tech on behalf of former cadets blasted the university on Sunday, alleging that its statement about the cases violated the confidentiality provisions of the settlements.

Tech said Friday that it was “pleased with the outcome” of the lawsuits, adding that the settlements affirmed that the policies and procedures of the Corps of Cadets and Student Conduct office were sound.

“And again, given the outcome, we do not anticipate any further litigation because, again, our policies and procedures and how we manage these programs has been affirmed,” Mark Owczarski, a university spokesman, had said.

From January to July 2020, the university faced seven different lawsuits from members of the Corps of Cadets who were suspended for violating the university’s hazing policy. The university disciplined more than a dozen cadets after a 2019 sophomore initiation that involved blood-pinning, the stabbing of military pins into the chest.

“As a condition of settlement, Virginia Tech insisted on a confidentiality provision that prohibited any statement to the press, other than that ‘the case has been resolved to the parties’ mutual satisfaction.’ They wanted to keep the settlement private,” Roanoke attorney Rob Dean said in an emailed statement Sunday after a story that included Tech’s statement was published in The Roanoke Times. “For Virginia Tech to now breach its own confidentiality provision and suggest publicly that the case outcome affirmed the proper application of its policies and procedures, is incorrect.”

Dean said the settlement agreement allowed his clients to correct the record in response to any breach of the confidentiality provision.

“So let me now share publicly what Virginia Tech wanted to keep confidential,” said Dean, who represented students in five of the lawsuits. “In exchange for my clients’ dismissals of the lawsuit, the University agreed to expunge their student conduct records, and remove any notation of a suspension on their transcripts. This provided an enormous benefit to my clients to vindicate their rights, clear their names, and preserve their future careers. The case is now closed.”

Owczarski said in an email Sunday that the university had “no additional comments about the corps or our policies and procedures beyond what was already shared” in its initial statement.

Attorney John Fishwick, who represented a cadet, also shared a statement Sunday: “We are very disappointed that Virginia Tech has violated the terms of the settlement agreement and we are evaluating all of our legal options.”

And attorney Joshua Farmer on Sunday supplied a statement on behalf of his client, Liam Rupkey, whose case ended in settlement last month.

“The level of hubris on display at Virginia Tech is shocking — even for the most pessimistic among us,” the statement said. “To be absolutely clear: The outcome of Mr. Rupkey’s case does nothing to affirm the policies and procedures at Virginia Tech. It certainly does not absolve the ‘leaders’ who remain in positions of power, giving lip service to the concepts of honor and integrity while whispering to reporters about an imaginary victory. The University and its Corps continue to be a tone-deaf embarrassment to both higher education and military tradition.”

Farmer’s statement said that Rupkey reluctantly accepted the university’s offer to expunge his disciplinary record and that Corps of Cadets leaders indicated a willingness to review the culture and policies that led to the discipline.

“Though he was offered the opportunity to return to the Corps, Mr. Rupkey refused,” the statement said. “He did not believe that he could trust his career to the same corrupt leaders who spent the past year defaming him. Based on their most recent public statements, it appears his concerns were well-founded.”

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