Ousted Ohio State band director Jonathan Waters said Sunday he isn’t in it for the cash.
In what could be his final effort at being reinstated after he was terminated July 24, Waters announced Friday he will sue the university and seek at least a $1 million payout.
But even though that figure is more than six times what Waters made annually as director, he said it’s not about the loot.
“There is no amount of money that would replace having my job back,” he said Sunday.
The former director — who attended Saturday’s OSU-Cincinnati football game with his wife — said he expects to be reinstated, in addition to the $1 million in compensatory damages, if he wins a lawsuit filed Friday in the U.S. District Court. He also expects to collect punitive damages and attorney fees.
Waters’ suit claims he was not given due process after an OSU investigative report released on July 24 said he was reasonably aware of or should have been aware of a sexually-fueled marching band culture and didn’t do enough to change it.
Former Ohio Attorney General and Board of Regents chancellor Jim Petro has signed onto Waters’ legal team to assist in the effort.
The lawsuit also claims Waters was discriminated against because he’s a man. A Friday release from his lawyer, David Axelrod, said OSU has allowed female employees “facing similar circumstances as Waters to continue in their jobs while correcting concerns identified.”
Since his dismissal, Waters and his attorney have made multiple public appearances and submitted a letter asking OSU to consider rehiring him. President Michael Drake and the Board of Trustees, however, have declined to reconsider his case.
The university has maintained a staunch position, saying it stands behind its decision to terminate Waters, despite fervent backlash from current band members and band alumni.
“Now that the former director has chosen to take his allegations to the legal system, however, Ohio State embraces the opportunity to respond to the baseless attacks of the past two months in a forum we know will vindicate the facts and the integrity underlying the University’s decisions,” a Friday release from the university stated. “The university stands ready to vigorously defend this lawsuit.”
Since his termination, Waters has repeatedly maintained he was a scapegoat for the university and that it fired him unjustly after he had tried to make cultural reforms.
Waters said Sunday that even though there appears to be constant back-and-forth, he and the university are on the same team.
“I know that in the media this looks like one side versus the other,” he said. “I really want to continue to say that we all are on the same side here. We all want what is best for the band, the students, the alumni, the university at large. We all want the best for everyone.”
But in some ways it seems Waters might not actually be on the same side as OSU, considering Waters is personally suing Drake and Provost and Executive Vice President Joseph Steinmetz as well.
“I felt I had a wonderful relationship with the provost and with the administration prior to this event,” Waters said.
Part of Waters’ allegations rely on a recording of Drake and current student leaders of the marching band talking about the band culture. Axelrod said the recording contradicts many of the statements contained in the report that led to Waters’ firing.
That meeting between Drake and the band members took place Aug. 24. Waters said his legal team had no prior knowledge the meeting was to be recorded.
In the transcript of the recording, Drake talked about OSU’s investigation report as being largely “historical” and said that it doesn’t accurately reflect the culture of the current band.
In one instance, the student in the recording said, “And I can’t move forward, and other people can’t move forward, and we can’t move forward as a group knowing that we would be moving forward on the basis of this false report.”
According to the transcript, Drake responded, “I believe the report was overwhelmingly about people I’ve never met, and that you’ve probably never met, in times gone by. The overwhelming volume of this was historical information that was not relevant to you at all.”
A full copy of the recording is available at a Waters support website ran by band alumnus Doug Lape, who also spoke at the Friday press conference.
“We believe it is very important to be completely transparent,” he said.
However, OSU spokesman Chris Davey said in a Friday email that the recording wasn’t so innocuous.
“It is regrettable that Waters’ lawyers have chosen to misconstrue the president’s words from a private meeting to garner support for their meritless allegations and personal gain,” he said. “Dr. Drake proactively reached out to the student leaders of the newly constituted 2014 marching band to lift them up and move forward together as a community. He attempted to convey to them that the current student members of the band need not be defined by the culture and actions of the past, so in that sense, the investigation report was ‘historical’ to them.”
While Drake was not immediately made available to comment Saturday, Davey said he will work on setting up an interview.
As for being discriminated against based on sex, Axelrod said OSU is in violation of Title IX.
Title IX is a section of the Education Amendments of 1972 that aims to protect against discrimination based on sex in education programs that receive federal funding.
Axelrod said the reference to a woman in a similar situation was former OSU head cheerleading coach Lenee Buchman.
Buchman was fired in November 2013 for “several serious lapses of judgment and leadership,” according to an email sent to Buchman by athletic director Gene Smith. In May of that same year, a sexual harassment investigation led to the termination of two assistant coaches, Dana Bumbrey and Eddie Hollins.
The university initially stood behind Buchman and she was given a 1 percent raise. However, Buchman later participated in a cheer camp run by Bumbrey, and allowed Hollins to attend an OSU cheer practice. After those details came to light and the original investigation became public, the university revisited its investigation and dismissed Buchman.
The university has said it plans on naming a new director by February. University Bands director Russel Mikkelson and associate director Scott Jones are serving as the interim directors until that permanent director is selected.
The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights announced after a compliance review of the university was concluded Sept. 11 that it will enter into an agreement with OSU to ensure proper Title IX obedience, according to a release.
In the release, the OCR agreed with the university that a “sexually hostile environment” within the band violated Title IX and praised the university for its handling of the situation.
OSU was one of 55 US colleges and universities being investigated by the department for its handling of sexual abuse complaints under Title IX. The review began in 2010 and was not complaint-based, the release said.
Despite the past two month’s progression of events, Waters maintains he never wanted to sue the university that he loves.
“I think all along we’ve said that we didn’t want it to get to this point. We just wanted an open and honest conversation and unfortunately we just didn’t get that and that’s why we had to take the next steps,” Waters said.