A former football coach and teaching assistant has filed a $1.1 million lawsuit against Oak Ridge school officials alleging that his firing in February was based upon a single “false complaint” from a student who alleged inappropriate contact—and he never had a chance to respond to the charges.
Coach Donald Colquitt suggested his reputation has been sullied by the unspecified complaint of “inappropriate contact with an Oak Ridge High School student,” and his local football career has been ruined. He filed a wrongful termination lawsuit in Anderson County Circuit Court on August 4.
“The ‘unanswered’ cloud of secrecy over the vague complaint allegedly filed against the plaintiff by an Oak Ridge High School student has caused him to effectively lose his career as a football coach in the Oak Ridge community, where he has engaged in that activity for some 19 years, and has further affected his reputation and character as a civic leader and football coach in the Oak Ridge school system,” the lawsuit said. “He will be unable to engage in such activity in the future and has sustained damages for loss of his career and future as a football coach, with damages resulting from the adverse imputation to his name, as well as his reputation in the community.”
The defendants are Oak Ridge Schools Superintendent Bruce Borchers and the Oak Ridge Board of Education.
Colquitt said he has never acted inappropriately or made any inappropriate contact with an ORHS student while employed by Oak Ridge Schools, but both the superintendent and school board have denied his right to be heard, including through a grievance hearing before the board.
“The only response that has been consistently made by the board, as well as the school superintendent, is that the superintendent had the right to ‘fire’ the plaintiff, and no one could question his authority to do so, not even the board,” the lawsuit said.
Prior to his mid-year termination on February 17, Colquitt had been the acting head freshman football coach and assistant varsity coach of the Oak Ridge High School football team. He was also an ORHS teacher’s assistant, helping a “special needs” student, the lawsuit said. He had previously been a teacher’s assistant and football coach at Jefferson Middle School.
Colquitt went to work at the high school after head coach Joe Gaddis returned to lead the Wildcats. He agreed to a one-year contract with ORHS to work as a teacher’s assistant, with an annual salary, starting August 2013 and ending June 2014, said the lawsuit, filed on behalf of Colquitt by Oak Ridge attorney Robert W. Knolton.
Colquitt was not paid any stipend or receive any other payment for his work as a football coach, although he expected to continue coaching and receive payment later, the lawsuit said.
Colquitt said there hadn’t been any prior notice of a problem, but he was placed on indefinite administrative leave with pay on January 14 while school officials investigated the “inappropriate contact” allegation.
“The plaintiff was not advised of further details about the complaint, nor of the name of the student who had made the complaint,” the lawsuit said. “The plaintiff was assured by the high school administration at that time that there were no serious problems of which they were aware, and assured him that this was a necessary process when a student complaint is made, indicating to him that it would take a short period of time to conduct the investigation.”
The suit said Colquitt wasn’t given any more details on the nature of the complaint, who made it, or whom might have been interviewed or what they said. He was also not given a chance to contradict the charges that “supposedly constituted ‘inappropriate contact’ with a student,” the lawsuit said. Knolton also hasn’t been able to get that information, the suit said.
The lawsuit said the student’s complaint was apparently related to a school policy regarding discrimination, harassment, and bullying of students.
“However, the school administration failed to follow its own procedural process in the investigation and furnishing of information to the plaintiff, against whom the complaint was filed,” the lawsuit said.
Colquitt said he was “passed” a termination letter during a meeting in the superintendent’s office on February 17.
Colquitt, who has set up a GoFundMe page to help with legal expenses, said the allegation of inappropriate contact with an Oak Ridge High School student was never properly verified or appropriately investigated. He alleged his due process rights have been violated; his good name, reputation, honor, and integrity have been damaged, and he’s lost past and future earnings. He is seeking a jury trial, $600,000 in compensatory damages, and $500,000 in punitive damages.