COLUMBUS, Ohio — Former Ohio State and NFL defensive back William White resigned from his role as an engagement director at the university earlier this year, after an internal investigation concluded that he violated the sexual misconduct policy when he was accused of kissing a coworker without consent in February.
Though White resigned in lieu of termination, his employment dates show he technically stayed on the university’s payroll through Aug. 10. That’s nearly 3½ months after the conclusion of the university’s human resources investigation and almost six months after OSU first received the complaint.
During the course of the investigation, White had to be escorted off the Buckeye Cruise for Cancer, and the university received a subsequent complaint from a different employee alleging White’s supervisors were interfering with the HR probe.
White, who worked as director of Community and Corporate Engagement for the College of Engineering, was accused of kissing the coworker Feb. 22, then attempting to do it again — allegations he denies. An HR investigation obtained by The Dispatch said White entered a coworker’s cubicle and put his face close to hers, “told her to look into his eyes, and then kissed her on the lips.” He then reportedly attempted to kiss her two more times that day.
Reached by The Dispatch, White called the sexual misconduct allegations “fake.”
“There’s nothing in that report that’s true,” he said.
The 53-year-old White graduated from Lima Senior High School in 1984, where he was a star athlete and standout student. White played for the Buckeyes from 1984 to 1987 and went on to spend 11 seasons in the NFL with Detroit, Kansas City and Atlanta. In recent years, he has been open about his battle with ALS, and the William White Family Fund for ALS remains an active fund at Ohio State to support patient care for people with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. It is a progressive, eventually fatal, disease in which a person’s body gradually loses its functions.
White was hired at Ohio State in April 2018. In his position, he also served as an ambassador of the Ohio State Alumni Association at various events. Ohio State spokesman Ben Johnson said White “was primarily responsible for building relationships with community and corporate partners to enhance their engagement with the College of Engineering.”
White also previously worked at Ohio State from 2010 to 2012 as a development officer.
White told investigators that he and his coworker’s faces were very close after she turned around in her chair, and their noses touched, the HR report said. He said he came back later and “attempted to touch noses with her again as a joke.”
White was placed on administrative leave Feb. 22, and ultimately would not return to his office after that.
The next day, he was scheduled to attend the Buckeye Cruise for Cancer, a trip that features former OSU athletes and raises money for cancer research at Ohio State. White was notified by an Ohio State HR investigator that he was not to go on the cruise, but he flew to Florida anyway, the report said. University officials ultimately had to work with cruise organizers to have White escorted off the ship, the report said.
Though the HR report indicates multiple discussions with White about not going on the cruise, White told The Dispatch that he never had a direct conversation with anyone from Ohio State about forgoing the trip.
In the final report dated April 30, investigators ultimately concluded there was sufficient evidence that White violated the university’s sexual misconduct policy and referred the matter to the College of Engineering and University Advancement, in consultation with HR, to take action regarding White’s employment.
“Upon hearing of these allegations, the university immediately launched an investigation and placed William White on leave,” OSU’s Johnson said in an email.
Before the HR investigative report was finalized, Ohio State’s compliance office received a separate, anonymous complaint April 9, alleging White’s supervisors — David Williams, the College of Engineering dean, and Jim Smith, president and CEO of the alumni association — were interfering with the HR matter and “attacking the investigation.” White reported to both the engineering college and alumni association.
The complainant, who is not identified in the compliance report, said she didn’t know what really happened, but investigations ought to be able to proceed without interference by “powerful people looking to protect a famous and powerful person,” the report said.
“This is horrifying to see and if allowed to continue or if their action is left unaddressed, it will leave me with a total lack of confidence in all the words the university speaks” about reporting concerns “fair investigations, and fair processes,” the complainant said.
Williams and Smith raised concerns of potential implicit bias in the investigation of White, the speed of the investigation, and the process by which HR reaches its conclusions and engaged White’s supervisors about corrective actions, the report said. The men also “advocated persistently for Mr. White’s continued employment at Ohio State.”
White, who is black, told The Dispatch that he also believes race affected the outcome of the HR investigation. The complainant is white.
Investigators said involvement by supervisors might be unusual, but not prohibited. Though some might have viewed Williams’ and Smith’s actions as “troubling and reflecting a manner of engagement that did not fully appreciate the university’s best interests in a high-profile investigation,” the report said, investigators concluded the men did not violate any university policies.
The investigative report on Williams and Smith raises additional questions about White’s departure from the university. The report indicated there was a March 5 meeting to discuss the outcome of the HR investigation and “potential corrective action.” But the HR investigation didn’t officially conclude until two months later on April 30, and White remained an OSU employee until Aug. 10.
The report, dated July 12, also indicated White had resigned in lieu of termination. But employment dates provided by the university indicate White was still a paid employee at that time, and continued to be one until nearly a month later.
When asked about the timeline of the investigations and why White remained employed at OSU nearly 3-1/2 months after the final HR report, Johnson said, “While the HR process was completed, White was not in the office.”
Contact Jennifer Smola at firstname.lastname@example.org or @jennsmola