Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Brenda Tracy said leak came from MSU boardroom

September 27, 2023
Student liaisons at the Board of Trustees Meeting at the Hannah Administration Meeting on Sep. 8, 2023.
Student liaisons at the Board of Trustees Meeting at the Hannah Administration Meeting on Sep. 8, 2023. —
Photo by Denille Reid | The State News

Brenda Tracy first accused “someone associated with” Michigan State University’s elected Board of Trustees of leaking her identity.

In a draft statement reviewed by The State News, Tracy — a prominent rape survivor and advocate who accused former MSU football coach Mel Tucker of sexually harassing her while she was consulting for his team — said the improper disclosure forced her to publicly come forward with the allegations, despite the confidentiality she was promised by MSU’s investigators.

But the statement was never released. Instead, she distributed an alternate version making no reference to the board, just saying an “outside party” leaked her name.

The State News is not disclosing who shared the draft statement with the reporter because they are not authorized to do so. 

Asked why the statement was changed, Karen Truszkowski, Tracy’s attorney, said the modification was a “legal strategy.” 

“I wanted people to know there was a leak, that it was not Brenda,” Truszkowski said. “I did not think it was necessary to point the finger at anyone in particular, so I chose not to do that because it still had the same effect.”

Truszkowski declined to say who exactly the draft statement was referring to, leaving it unclear who “associated with the board” was the leaker.

It’s also unclear how the person knew that Tracy was the accuser.

The board said in a statement that it didn’t know that Tracy was accusing Tucker until they read a Sept. 10 USA Today report in which she publicly came forward.

The board has known that Tucker was being investigated since Dec. 2022, but was never told officially the identity of the claimant, MSU spokesperson Emily Guerrant said.

She said the only people that were officially told Tracy’s name, as part of MSU’s investigatory process, were Interim President Teresa Woodruff, Athletic Director Alan Haller, staff in the Office of General Counsel and Office of Institutional Equity, or OIE, which conducted MSU’s investigation.

That secrecy is part of MSU’s process. The OIE does not share the names of claimants or respondents during ongoing investigations.

But names of those involved are often given to direct supervisors, in this case Haller and Woodruff, so they can put interim measures in place, Guerrant said.

Haller was given Tracy's name in Dec. 2022 when the complaint was first made and Woodruff was made aware in July when the investigative portion of the OIE process was completed, Guerrant said.  

A new figure is also introduced by the draft statement: a middle-man who got Tracy’s name and spread it to local media.

“Someone associated with the MSU Board of Trustees disclosed my client's identity to an outside party,” the statement said. “That outside party shared her identity with local media.”

Truszkowski also declined to identify that person.

MSU Board of Trustees chair Rema Vassar ultimately refused to comment when asked about the draft statement. In several text exchanges, she asked to know more specifics about The State News' story before choosing to not answer questions. 

The board's bylaws say only the board chair can talk to the media on behalf of the board.

MSU’s investigation into the leak

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The timing of the distribution of the draft statement also provides new insight into the closed-door decisions that led the university’s administration to order an outside investigation of the leak.

MSU’s board and administration are separate. The administration, led by the president, runs the university day to day, while the board, which is elected statewide in partisan races, is tasked with overseeing the administration and making big-picture decisions.

A copy of the draft statement was shared with MSU’s general counsel, Brian Quinn, on Sept. 12. That same day, MSU’s administration ordered an outside investigation into the leak.

But the administration didn’t publicly announce that investigation until Sept. 18.

Asked why MSU waited six days to announce the investigation, Guerrant said: “We just didn’t have all the details yet.”

“There was so much happening that week,” Guerrant said. “Just trying to stay on top of the media inquiries that we had in, in addition to connecting with our colleagues and these different units, like the general counsel and the board. Everything was moving very quickly.”

The board was informed of MSU's investigation by no later than Sept. 12, Guerrant said.

Despite that, former MSU board chair Dianne Byrum publicly demanded an investigation into the leak on Sept. 13, after one had been ordered.

Her statement argued the leak could discourage future survivors of misconduct at MSU from reporting, because they will fear their name being disclosed.

Byrum said she was "disturbed and outraged by recent reports indicating the name of a claimant in a sexual harassment investigation was intentionally released in an apparent effort to retaliate against her … We should unequivocally condemn attempts to silence or retaliate against victims.”

Tracy’s allegations

Tracy first filed a complaint with the OIE in Dec. 2022. While the leak forced her to come forward publicly earlier this month, the case is ongoing.

A hearing set for Oct. 5 and Oct. 6 will decide whether Tucker violated the university’s policies on relationship violence and sexual misconduct.

Tracy claims Tucker made a phone call in April 2022 that began with a sexually suggestive comment about her appearance and ended with Tucker masturbating on the line, according to the USA Today report.

Tucker has since admitted to masturbating on the call and making the sexual comments, but denies that it was nonconsensual.

Tucker, who has a 23-year marriage and two sons, claims he and Tracy had a mutual romantic connection even prior to the phone call and that they frequently made flirtatious comments toward one another. He alleges Tracy wanted a “sugar daddy” who would regularly pay her money in exchange for sexual and romantic favors.

Tracy claims the relationship was one-sided and that she had to ward off sexual advances in the past.

"The idea that someone could know me and say they understand my trauma but then re-inflict that trauma on me is so disgusting to me, it's hard for me to even wrap my mind around it," Tracy told USA Today. "It's like he sought me out just to betray me."

Since the publication of USA Today’s report, MSU has fired Tucker, saying whether or not the relationship was consensual, his admission of a sexual relationship with a team vendor is enough to terminate him.

"The university terminated Tucker’s contract for his admitted and undisputed behaviors which have brought public disrespect, contempt and ridicule upon the university; and constitute a material breach of his agreement, and moral turpitude," according to a press release announcing the termination.

Tucker has released statements saying he believes the university has no legal right to fire him, calling Haller’s justifications “flimsy.”

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