Former Ohio State marching band director Jonathan Waters’ lawsuit against OSU was dismissed by the State of Ohio Court of Claims on Tuesday.
In its decision, the Court of Claims rejected Waters’ accusations that OSU had defamed him and ruined his personal and professional reputation.
The court identifies Waters as a “limited-purpose public figure” because he “attained general notoriety and prominence in the community, as well as general society” when he became involved in the public controversy surrounding reports released about the OSU marching band.
Waters was fired in July 2014 after a two-month investigation overseen by Chris Glaros, assistant vice president for compliance operations and investigations in OSU’s Office of Compliance and Integrity, determined there was a “sexualized” band culture. The report further stated that Waters was aware or reasonably should have been aware of that culture and did not do enough to change it.
In the lawsuit, Waters and his lawyers argued that the investigation’s report was “incomplete, skewed, rife with material omissions and distorted more likely to appease the Department of Education than to afford basic fairness to Waters,” and that OSU “through its trustees, officers and employees” ignored this fact and instead used details in the report to cast a false light on Waters.
In a 32-page document that explained the circumstances surrounding Waters’ firing and how the decision has impacted his personal life, as well as his search for future employment, Waters and his attorneys explained that the band director was seeking $3 million in damages — $1 million for each of the three claims he makes in the document: false light invasion of privacy, defamation and slander per se.
Because the court identified Waters as a limited-purpose public figure, in order to prove his claim of defamation, he would have to prove that OSU published information with “actual malice” — knowing that information is false and disseminating it anyway or exercising “reckless disregard for the truth.”
Comparatively, private figures suing for defamation in Ohio would only have to present evidence to prove “negligence,” or a failure to reasonably attempt to discover the truth.
In Waters’ lawsuit, the court determined that the former band director failed to prove that OSU acted with actual malice.
“The court also finds that the evidence in the record does not show that, in issuing the alleged defamatory statements in the Title IX Investigation Report, OSU, through its agents, acted with knowledge that the statements were false or acted with reckless disregard as to their truth or falsity so as to defeat OSU’s qualified immunity with respect to the Title IX Investigation Report,” the court’s decision read.
OSU expressed approval of the court’s decision in an emailed statement.
“We have maintained from the beginning that the university acted properly in its handling of the marching band investigation and the reform of the band’s culture, and that this case was without merit,” the statement read. “We are gratified that the court has agreed with the university, and has dismissed this lawsuit. Ohio State continues to be focused on the future and supporting our students, and we look forward to another outstanding season by our world-class band.”
Waters did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Despite reapplying for his job in January 2015, Waters was not selected for the position. In February, it was announced that Christopher Hoch, who had been serving as the band’s interim director since May 2015, would step into the position of director.
In April, Waters announced that he had accepted a band director job at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, Ohio.