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Claims against Southwestern, Patterson dismissed in Roe case

PLANO, Texas (BP) – A civil suit claiming defamation and negligence by Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) and its former president, Paige Patterson, has been dismissed.

The suit, originally filed in 2019 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Texas, alleged “Jane Roe” was sexually assaulted at gunpoint by “John Doe”, a student with a criminal history who also was employed as a plumber at the seminary, on at least three occasions from October 2014 through April 2015.

Roe alleged neither Patterson nor SWBTS sought to protect her when she reported her abuse and that SWBTS had no system in place to prevent and address the sexual assault of students.

Both Roe’s claims of negligence and defamation were dismissed with prejudice meaning Roe cannot refile the claims, however an appeal on the ruling is likely, according to Roe’s lawyer, Sheila Haddock.

“We are disappointed in the Court’s rulings on Ms. Roe’s claims and are preparing our appeal,” Haddock told Baptist Press. “We were ready for trial and looking forward to finally being able to present the ample evidence supporting Ms. Roe’s allegations to a jury.  We are still hopeful we will have that opportunity. In the meantime, we encourage the media and the public to refrain from trying this case on social media by drawing inferences and reaching conclusions based on the extremely limited and skewed information currently available in the sealed court record.”

In response to the ruling, SWBTS board chair Danny Roberts issued a statement through the seminary saying “We are grateful that the Court has determined that the facts in this case did not meet the standard established by the law and has dismissed all claims.

“Still, we recognize that the biblical standard for responding to allegations of abuse and caring for victims of abuse is much higher. It was a failure to live up to this higher standard that led, in part, to a presidential transition in 2018. Southwestern Seminary remains committed to the biblical standard, which demands doing everything we can to ensure the safety of all members of the seminary community and caring well for victims of sexual abuse.”

In his dismissal, Judge Sean Jordan noted Roe’s claims that “women experienced ‘a toxic environment at SWBTS under Patterson,’ and that ‘women on the campus were treated as petty annoyances at best and evil seductresses hell bent on the destruction of the purely innocent men around them,’ are not evidence that the Court can consider in evaluating summary judgment. Instead, they are opinions about how women experienced their time as students at SWBTS. While they may reflect Roe’s opinion and perhaps the opinion of some other female students, they remain just that—opinions, not evidence.”

Furthermore, he stated that “the ‘break her down’ email that Roe has repeatedly cited does not demonstrate that Doe’s alleged sexual assaults of Roe were foreseeable to Patterson or SWBTS. The email was sent after the assaults occurred, after Roe had reported them to Patterson and SWBTS, and after Roe herself decided not to pursue criminal charges against Doe.

“Thus, the email is irrelevant to the question of what information Defendants were aware of prior to Roe’s alleged victimization. Patterson’s approach to further communications with Roe may well have been misguided and inappropriate, but his post-hoc actions based on an apparent mistrust of the truthfulness of Roe’s allegations cannot create a genuine issue of material fact on the key questions of foreseeability and duty at the heart of this case.”

Jordan also confirmed that “Patterson and SWBTS immediately notified local law enforcement authorities of Roe’s outcry,” yet “Roe declined to pursue charges against Doe.”

The SWBTS Board of Trustees fired Patterson in May 2018 “regarding the handling of an allegation of sexual abuse against a student during Dr. Paige Patterson’s presidency at another institution and resulting issues connected with statements to the Board of Trustees that are inconsistent with SWBTS’s biblically informed core values.”

Requests by Baptist Press for comment from Patterson were not returned.