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.