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Ohio State ready for fight after Waters $1M lawsuit announcement

Former OSU Marching Band director Jonathan Waters during  a press conference Sept. 26 where he announced he will sue the university. Credit: Logan Hickman / Campus editor

Former OSU Marching Band director Jonathan Waters (right) during a press conference Sept. 26. Waters’ attorney, David Axelrod (left) announced Waters will sue the university and seek at least $1 million in compensatory damages.
Credit: Logan Hickman / Campus editor

After months of indecision, former Ohio State Marching band director Jonathan Waters said he will sue the university and individuals at the university for failure to provide due process and discrimination based on gender.

Waters will seek a number of points of relief including a minimum of $1 million in compensatory damages as well as punitive damages, attorney fees and reinstatement, his lawyer said during a Friday press conference.

Former Ohio Attorney General and Chancellor of the Board of Regents, Jim Petro, has signed onto Waters’ legal team.

Waters will individually sue President Michael Drake and Provost and Executive Vice President Joseph Steinmetz, according to a copy of the lawsuit given out at the event.

The ousted band director met with members of the media Friday afternoon at his lawyer’s downtown Columbus office for an impromptu press conference about his decision. His attorney, David Axelrod, and former OSU Marching Band director Paul Droste joined him.

“We are here today to tell the Ohio State University that we are not going away,” Axelrod said. “We have filed a lawsuit in the United States District Court.”

However, OSU spokesman Chris Davey said the lawsuit lacks both “substance” and “merit,” in an email following the event.

“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,” he said. “With the support of the Ohio Attorney General, we have retained litigation counsel and together the University stands ready to vigorously defend this lawsuit.”

The lawsuit, which was filed Friday, includes a transcript of a recording between Drake and current student leaders of the marching band about its culture. Axelrod said that recording dispels many of the statements contained in a report that was issued by the university when Waters was fired July 24.

That report said the marching band contained a sexualized culture and Waters was aware or reasonable should have been aware of that culture.

According to a press release given out at the event, the meeting with Drake and the band members took place on Aug. 24. Waters said his legal team had no prior knowledge that the meeting was to be recorded.

In the transcript of the recording, Drake talks about the report as being largely “historical” and 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 event.

“We believe it is very important to be completely transparent,” he said.

However, Davey said that’s not the case.

“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.”

The lawsuit also says Waters was discriminated against based on sex.

Axelrod said Waters was not provided due process and fairness protections that OSU has “routinely extended to female participants in Title IX sexual harassment investigations.”

The release said OSU has allowed female employees “facing similar circumstances as Waters to continue in their jobs while correcting the concerns identified.” It went on to say OSU discriminated against Waters 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 female 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,” in an email sent to Buchman by athletic director Gene Smith. Earlier that year, a sexual harassment investigation into two assistant coaches, Dana Bumbrey and Eddie Hollins, led to their termination in May.

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 their investigation and dismissed Buchman.

Since his dismissal, Waters and his attorney have made multiple public appearances and submitted a letter asking OSU to consider rehiring him. Drake and the Board of Trustees, however, have declined to reconsider his case.

The university has said it plans on naming a new director by February. It has named University Bands director Russel Mikkelson and associate director Scott Jones as interim directors until that permanent director is selected.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights announced Sept. 12 it will enter into an agreement with OSU to ensure proper Title IX obedience after a compliance review of the university was concluded, 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 U.S. 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.
To see the complete Jonathan Waters press conference, watch the video below.


  1. Of course OSU will not make any comment. Defendants never do. What can they say?

    Sad day for OSU in my opinion, but Jon is doing the right thing.

    I will be the first in line to watch a jury trial to see just how much BS (not Bachelor of Science)the OSU Board of Trustees, Drake and their legal team can dish out.

  2. Can’t wait until the University crushes him in court. ‘Sco Bucks!

  3. Yeah, sure..........

    Davey and the people he speaks for had better remember that in court that are not going to be able to railroad Mr. Waters and all of these people (Drake, Steinmetz, Glaros and all the people in the “report”) are going to be compelled to testify. The truth WILL come out and all the dissembling in the world by Davey is not going to change that. I also like how tOSU thinks that a former attorney general would be stupid enough to file a lawsuit that was lacking in substance and merit. Petro has more sense than all of them put together.
    They thought if they ignored Jon Waters and the thousands of other people they defamed, this would just go away, but believe me, it is just starting.

    Wait for the rest of the lawsuits to be filed

  4. Dr.drey and your class of kroon nines will be put on the bus back to DC. Although we all know the 1 m won’t come out of his over price k. Hopefully we can all stand behind Jon and wave good riddens to drake and his team of flakes once and 4 all. Where is mr. Bow tie when we really could have utilized some Glee in this matter from our former president Dr.gee!

  5. Buckeye in the West

    The OSU administration continues to stand by their “investigation”, even though the more comes out, the more it looks bad for OSU. It does not help when Dr. Drake effectively said, to the Band in 21 August, that the OSU “investigative” report is “historical” in nature and does not apply to the “modern” band. And the allegations predates Jon Waters as director, which were discussed between Dr. Drake and those in attendance.

    Between the OSU Alumni Band Report, and the transcript of Dr. Drake’s meeting with the band, it is going to be very hard for OSU to defend this lawsuit or the other ones that may also be coming.

    For a very long time the OSU administration had hid in their ivory tower, and got to the point that they can get away with just about anything. Selling parking to a private firm overstepped their authority. The DOEd may be back, if Jon Waters succeeds in this lawsuit. Their is dirt that needs to be dug up and this law suit may bring this dirt to light. Especially, the sweetheart deal with OSU and the DOEd

  6. I am a graduate of The Ohio State University. And all I can say is, not another dime of my money will go to the school until Jon Waters is re-instated and President Drake is fired along with the Board of Trustees. What a joke. I’d rather be laughing at Catholic jokes by the former OSU President.

  7. Surprised that the law suit if for only one million $$$$$. Amount should be at least five times that amount.
    I will look forward to all the disclosures over the next few months which, hopefully, will result in Waters
    returning as band director. Pres. Drake must have been provided some very bad advice on the report
    as being new on the job he should have proceeded with upmost caution…..Drake is over his head as
    President of my beloved university.

    Bill Grant
    OSU ’61

  8. The things that this band director is accused of is no different than anything that goes on in every fraternity and sorority on every college campus in the United States. I have no dog in this fight (although I am an alum) but I truly think that the University has crapped down their leg on this one!!!!!

  9. “However, OSU spokesman Chris Davey said the lawsuit lacks both “substance” and “merit,” in an email following the event.”

    Sounds like he’s giving his legal opinion—too bad he never attended law school. Having formerly worked for the Ohio Supreme Court you would think he would know that there are laws against giving legal opinions without a license.

    Also, just wait until they depose Gene Smith. It’s going to get worse and worse for the administration as this lawsuit drags on. Offer Waters $2 million to stay fired and sign a non-disclosure. Cut your losses and run!!! But then again, the man has integrity and probably wouldn’t take the deal.

  10. Michael McKibben '73

    Directors Jon Waters and Paul Droste are among the few in the administration past and present who are actually speaking FOR the values of decency and professional excellence that have made our university respected. The malcontents can express all the bluster and cockiness they like. It is astounding that they continue to defend such a fabricated controversy. Hopefully observers can see through the smokescreen. Thank you gentlemen.

    Our honor defend,

    Michael McKibben
    OSUMB F-Row, Q-Row, ASL

  11. Having worked in the legal field for 12 years (I am NOT an attorney) its should be obvious that this whole mess, just like the one they created when they fired Coach O’Brien from the basketball team is going to cost OSU and a lot more then just cash, that investigation was as one sided as they come

  12. Release the Kraken.

  13. My guess, from the beginning, was that Pres. Drake has a band director friend he owes a favor or 2 to. He will be brought in after a “search”.

  14. Imagine the irony when the trustees sacrifice Drake on the same altar of expedience that Drake sacrificed Waters. This probably isn’t a matter of who is right or wrong. It’s likely more a matter of who appears to be a liability in the university’s effort to maintain the pretense of moral character, when underneath the rather thin veneer you’ll find a taxpayer-funded juggernaut that cannot govern itself, an organization that lacks moral authority at the top and also lacks any healthy mechanisms to truly drive meaningful organizational change. That’s why the university must ultimately purchase the silence of the scapegoats by paying them to go away. Sadly, this situation isn’t unique to OSU. This is typical behavior for giant, soulless organizations.

  15. Just write a check like you do for everything else.

  16. Drake gives every evidence to me that he is a politically correct and incompetent lacking professionalism, and that he has counted on the Midwest mentality of spineless submission to injustice. I applaud Jon Waters for stepping up and defending both himself and those recipients of Drake’s future high-handed exploits.
    As for Drake and his refusal to accept accountability:
    If it ducks like a quack, it probably IS a quack!

  17. Don't Let Up Lantern

    Another sordid chapter of transient bureaucrats always chasing the almighty federal research $$$. Steamrolling whatever and whoever get in their way. $1 million would never be enough to get back the reputation of the band and it’s alumni. Thats pocket change to OSU which is raising two and half billion dollars and burning through a million dollars a day in research projects…most of which is funded by the federal govt. “Too big to be accountable” describes OSU and it’s Board to a tee. Just my opinion.

  18. Don't Let Up Lantern

    “its alumni” The Lantern autocorrect software automatically inserts the verbal form which is strange.

  19. this will never to go trial

    The simple truth of the matter is that Jon filed a lawsuit for a reasonable amount of money, which OSU will pay him. It’s just a matter now for the lawyers to pen the non-disclosure agreement and this matter will be wrapped up before the end of the year.

  20. Don't Let Up Lantern

    Sexualized culture on full display on the today’s Big Ten Channel coverage..check out.the Motel.com commercial. That becomes exhibit A of how phony these bureaucrats are and the bogus charges of sexualized cultures permeating college landscapes. The B1G is taking money based on sexual innuendo. Watch the commercial and tell me if you don’t agree. Hey Drake and Steinmetz and Smith…what will you tell your fellow B1G presidents/provosts/ADs when you get together and carve up the football money?

  21. Don't Let Up Lantern

    Correction: Hotels.com

  22. If there was so much sexual harassment & hazing in the band, why have not more people come forth to complain. Unlike all the reports that came out after the pedophile priests were outed, the first female band members and the first female drum major have supported the band (Jon Waters was not director at that time). If Dr.Drake insists that this was a historical problem, then he is also casting aspersions on Dr. Woods. What a shame that two fine directors and countless band students past and present have been slandered. The band is suffering and those students need our support.

  23. Was Jon protected by civil service policies or was he an at-will employee? Ohio is a tough state to fight a dismissal if you’re an at-will employee. He will probably get a settlement but I can’t imagine he’ll get his job back.

  24. Does Water really want his job back, if he got it through the court how awkward would that be for him, the students and the faculty at the school of music. I think it wasn’t handled right but I don’t think Waters is blameless in this whole thing. Move on some other university would love to have you.

  25. My vote is for OSU. Waters has not been honest and all he did was play on your sympathy. The truth is there and it will come out. .

  26. My vote is for Jon Waters. Look at the first section of WeStandWithJonWaters to see that president Drake conveniently changes his response for his audience. OSU administration has not been honest from the start of this fiasco.

  27. Give It Up: Being director the Ohio State University Marching Band is one of the top marching band director jobs in the world. It was, and still is, Jon Waters’ dream job. If OSU would just admit that their report is a sham, offer him his job back, and apologize to the thousands of us slandered by the report, he would take it back in a heart beat.

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