Two former Penn State assistant football coaches, including a son of the late Joe Paterno, are suing the university, alleging that it fired them prematurely after the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse scandal surfaced.
Jay Paterno and Bill Kenney filed a civil rights lawsuit Monday in U.S. District Court, saying Penn State released them from the coaching staff in 2012 "with rashness and without basis." They also allege that Penn State reneged on salary payments, violated their civil rights by agreeing to NCAA sanctions and interfered with their future employment.
Paterno and Kenney seek more than $1 million in damages. Penn State is the only named defendant, and no other former Penn State coaches are parties in the suit.
Bill O'Brien, who spent two years as Penn State's head football coach before leaving for the Houston Texans of the NFL, did not retain either on his staff.
"It is common practice for incoming head coaches to select their own coaching staff. Penn State will have no further comment on this matter," Lisa Powers, Penn State's director of strategic communications, said in a statement.
The lawsuit continues a lengthy legal procession that began after Penn State signed the NCAA's consent decree agreeing to football sanctions in 2012. That document, and Louis Freeh's report that precipitated it, caused "irreparable damage" to Paterno's and Kenney's reputations and prevented them from finding other coaching jobs, the suit alleges.
Paterno and Kenney also are plaintiffs in the Paterno family's suit against the NCAA, of which Penn State is a nominal defendant, to have the consent decree overturned.
Former assistant coach Mike McQueary's whistleblower suit against Penn State is pending. And former Penn State President Graham Spanier withdrew a 2012 lawsuit against Penn State regarding emails about Sandusky.
Penn State spent nearly $70 million through 2013 on legal fees, consultants and public relations to address the Sandusky scandal, according to university figures. That includes $24 million in NCAA fines.
In their new lawsuit, Paterno and Kenney say that Penn State owes them six months in salary and benefits payments. The former coaches allege they were terminated in January 2012 and told they would be paid their normal salaries through the end of the 2012 academic year in June. After that, their severance period would begin July 1, the suit says.
Instead, according to the lawsuit, Penn State "purposefully accelerated" the severance period to begin in January 2012. By doing so, the lawsuit alleges, Penn State "wrongfully" avoided paying six months of salaries and benefits.
The lawsuit also says that none of the coaches on Penn State's staff in 2011, when Sandusky was charged with 48 counts of child sexual abuse, was involved with the case or connected to any "wrongdoing." Penn State terminated the coaches "at the height of the Sandusky scandal's dark shroud and without any attempt whatsoever" to preserve their reputations, the lawsuit says.
Penn State "further re-injured" the former coaches, the suit alleges, by signing the NCAA's 2012 consent decree, which issued a $60 million fine, a four-year bowl ban and scholarship reductions to the football team. The decree, which the NCAA based on Freeh's report that condemned former Penn State officials for their handling of the Sandusky situation, "destroyed any realistic prospect" the coaches had of finding other jobs in coaching or media, the suit says.
"Penn State knew or should have known that the Freeh Report, as the basis of the consent decree, was an unreliable rush to judgment without a proper investigation, and the conclusions reached in the Freeh Report were not substantiated," the lawsuit says.
Jay Paterno coached at Penn State for 17 years, spending the last 12 as quarterbacks coach. After leaving Penn State, Paterno applied for head coaching jobs at Colorado, Boston College and Connecticut, among other schools, but was not granted interviews, the lawsuit says.
According to the lawsuit, the administration at one unnamed university considered the former Penn State coaches "too toxic" to hire because of the consent decree. Paterno also pursued media opportunities at ESPN, CBS Sports and Fox Sports but received no offers because network officials "were nervous about the Sandusky scandal," the suit says.
Paterno, who is out of coaching, withdrew his candidacy for Pennsylvania's lieutenant governor earlier this year. He will release a book in September, "Paterno Legacy: Enduring Lessons from the Life and Death of My Father."
Kenney was an assistant coach at Penn State for 23 years, working primarily with offensive linemen. He applied for a number of positions in 2012 with college and professional teams, including the New York Giants and Cleveland Browns, but was not offered any jobs, the suit alleges.
The lawsuit also says that, in interviews, Kenney was asked about the NCAA's findings that Penn State coaches had ignored the "red flags of Sandusky's behaviors" instead of about his coaching credentials.
Kenney was hired as an assistant coach at Western Michigan last year.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun