Michigan State athletic director Alan Haller suspended football coach Mel Tucker without pay Sunday amid an ongoing investigation into claims that he sexually harassed prominent sexual assault awareness speaker Brenda Tracy.
Haller and other Michigan leaders, including interim president Teresa Woodruff, said they didn’t know details about Tracy’s allegations and Tucker’s response until news reports over the weekend, saying the university’s investigative process barred them from learning specifics.
Woodruff said Sunday that Michigan State’s decision to suspend Tucker this weekend and not earlier in the investigative process was made in an effort to appropriately handle the claim. She said the decision “might sound like the MSU of old” — an apparent reference to the university’s previous failures to properly handle sexual misconduct claims involving high-profile employees — but “it was not.”
Here’s what Michigan State has said about the investigative timeline and what we know about the university’s policy governing that process:
What is Michigan State’s leadership saying about what they knew and when?
Haller told reporters Sunday he first learned in late December 2022 that someone had filed a sexual misconduct complaint about Tucker. He said he was notified in late July that the independent investigator hired to assess the claims had finished her work on July 25 and recommended the case proceed to a hearing to determine whether Tucker violated the school’s sexual misconduct policy.
Woodruff said Sunday — less than 24 hours after ESPN reported Tucker was the subject of an ongoing investigation and USA Today shared a detailed account of Tracy’s claims — that “new developments” over the weekend made it “equally necessary and appropriate” to suspend Tucker.
University spokeswoman Emily Guerrant told ESPN later Sunday that Haller knew in December that the alleged victim was a third-party vendor who worked with the school. Woodruff told the Lansing State Journal on Monday that she learned Tracy was the complainant after the investigator concluded her report in July. Guerrant said neither Haller nor Woodruff knew the details of the complaint before reading news reports over the weekend. Those details — which were collected by the investigator and made public in USA Today’s report — include Tucker’s admission that he did have a sexual encounter with Tracy during a phone call. Tucker says the encounter was consensual. Tracy says it was not.
Why were details about the case withheld from administrators?
Some experts in the field of Title IX and sexual assault investigations told ESPN it is considered best practice to prevent the bosses of an accused employee from learning the details of a case before it is fully resolved. This firewall is designed to protect the identity of the claimant and to keep the superior from trying to influence the investigation or pressure a claimant. Others say that some universities have a mechanism in place for investigators to share important information with an employee’s manager that provides the opportunity to take necessary action (such as a suspension) during the course of an investigation.
The Michigan State relationship violence and sexual misconduct policy posted on the university’s website does not include any specific language that dictates how or when information should be shared with an employee’s manager during a case. Guerrant did not respond to a question about where those policies are written or when they were implemented.
Who at Michigan State had the authority to suspend Tucker? And why didn’t they do so sooner?
Some university officials, including Haller, had the ability to suspend Tucker at any time after they learned he was the subject of an ongoing sexual misconduct investigation. The school policy states that employees can be placed on administrative leave “prior to or following the filing of a formal complaint and through final resolution of the formal grievance process.”
Guerrant, Michigan State’s spokesperson, said the members of the Office for Civil Rights overseeing the investigation of Tucker’s case do not have the authority to suspend him. “Those types of decisions are left to the direct manager and unit leadership of an employee,” she said.
Haller told reporters Sunday he put in place some interim measures after learning about the investigation, including an order for Tucker not to contact Tracy and “increased oversight” of the football program. He did not specify the timing of those measures.
When asked why Tucker was not suspended in July, Haller said he was “waiting on the university’s investigative process and making sure they were allowed to complete their investigation.”
What impact do federal Title IX regulations have on the Tucker investigation?
While the office at Michigan State that investigates Title IX complaints is handling this case, Tracy’s allegations were not classified as a Title IX complaint. The federal Title IX law guarantees equal access to education and typically applies to complaints made by or pertaining to students. However, it’s common for universities to adopt a policy for addressing sexual violence and harassment that conforms with Title IX regulations and apply it to all types of complainants and situations. Guerrant said all allegations of sexual misconduct, relationship violence or stalking fall under the same policy at Michigan State.
The university’s relationship violence and sexual misconduct policy applies to “all forms of gender discrimination (including sexual harassment, sexual assault, and sexual violence) against employees, students, and third parties,” which would cover Tracy as a vendor whose work was allegedly affected by Tucker’s actions. She said Tucker postponed and eventually cancelled a paid speaking engagement she was supposed to have with the team after she confronted him about his alleged harassment, according to USA Today. Tucker refuted this claim in a statement Monday, but, according to USA Today, Tucker agreed that he took part in cancelling her visit with the team when he was interviewed about the issue during the investigation.
How long will the case remain open?
A hearing is scheduled for the first week of October. The school’s policy says that in most cases, investigations will be completed within 90 days of a formal complaint, and that a final written conclusion following a hearing should be delivered within 60 days of the investigation being closed. In this case, it took more than 200 days for the investigator to complete their initial report and an additional 72 days between the end of the investigation and the scheduled start of Tucker’s hearing.
Michigan State’s Office of Institutional Equity has been criticized for several years for the length of time it takes to investigate complaints. Over one year — from May 2022 to May 2023 — the university received more than 150 complaints under the relationship violence and sexual misconduct policy from non-students against faculty or staff, according to records reviewed by ESPN. A story published last week in Michigan State’s student newspaper said a recent audit found that Title IX complaints at the university take roughly one year to resolve on average.
Guerrant said they aim to hit a standard of 120 days for these cases, but “we can see the timeframe fluctuate dependent on several factors such as the participation of the claimant/respondent/witnesses or the complexity of the case.” She declined to say what led to the delays in Tucker’s case. Any time there is a delay in the process, the university is required under the policy to provide written updates to both parties that include a reason for the delay.
Why is the hearing in October if the investigation ended in July?
Tucker’s hearing falls during the one week this fall that Michigan State’s football team does not have a game. When asked if the football team’s schedule played a role in setting an abnormally long wait period between the investigator’s report and a hearing, Guerrant said the hearing date was mutually agreed upon by all parties involved in the case.
Karen Truszkowski, the attorney representing Tracy in the case, said their side was ready to go to a hearing as soon as possible. She said while the case has taken a long time, she did not believe it was dragged out intentionally.
“If there was any delay, that was on [Tucker’s] part, not ours, but I’d be reluctant to say he dragged it out,” Truszkowski said.
Jennifer Belveal, Tucker’s attorney, did not respond to messages seeking comment.
Tucker’s contract says he is paid a total of $9 million per year in monthly installments, which means he received an average of $750,000 each month up until his suspension without pay on Sunday.