Jay Paterno files suit against Penn State over 2012 termination

By Jim Boyle | Jul 23, 2014

The fallout from former Penn State Assistant Coach Jerry Sandusky's arrest and

conviction for sexually abusing minors continues to ripple.

In the latest development, former assistant coach and son of the late head coach Joe Paterno, Jay Paterno, has filed a $1 million lawsuit against the college, claiming that his termination during the investigation by Louis Freeh and the school's acceptance of NCAA sanctions has tarnished his reputation and hindered his ability to find employment elsewhere.

Another former assistant coach, Bill Kenney, joins Paterno as a plaintiff in the suit, which accuses Penn State of denying their rights to due process, intentionally interfering with contractual relations and violating state wage laws. The school's acceptance of the NCAA's sanctions and the findings of the Freeh report, combined with the coaches' terminations at the height of the scandal has cast a shadow over their employment with the football team, according to the complaint.

"[Paterno and Kenney] had earned, through no fault of their own, a pariah status that was
attributed to them as a result of the termination and consent decree that was wholly
undeserved," the complaint says.

Allegations against the Nittany Lions' former defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky hit the public stage in 2011, ultimately resulting in his arrest and conviction for 45 of 48 child sexual abuse counts involving 10 victims over a period of 18 years. Sandusky has been sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison, but his crimes had far-reaching consequences for Penn State and its football team.

In November 2011, the school's board of trustees fired legendary head coach Joe Paterno in the middle of the college football season, outraging many alumni, students and former players. Jay Paterno, Kenney and the rest of the coaching staff managed the final games.

Paterno died of lung cancer in January 2012, weeks after Penn State announced William O'Brien as the new head coach for the football team. As expected by most analysts, O'Brien brought his own team of assistants, terminating the employment of Jay Paterno and Kenney.

According to the suit, past practices by the school treated each assistant football coach as a 12-month fixed term appointee who was entitled to receive full wages and benefits from the start of the academic year in which they were coaching through the end of the academic year even if a coach was released from his coaching duties prior to the end of the academic year.

The suit claims that the Penn State's head of human resources told the coaches in December 2011 that if they were let go, they would receive full wages and benefits until July 1, 2012, followed by an 18-month severance. However, their termination was effective mid-January, denying the plaintiffs six months of full wages and benefits, the complaint says.

Additionally, the termination occurred in the midst of the internal investigation of the events surrounding Sandusky's crimes, conducted by Louis Freeh at the behest of the board of trustees. The timing of Paterno and Kenney's firings, plus the lack of a press release from the school thanking the coaches and clarifying that they had nothing to do with the scandal, "had the effect of branding and stigmatizing Plaintiffs as participants in the Sandusky scandal and, by so doing, maligned Plaintiffs’ heretofore stellar reputations by portraying them by implication in false light," the complaint says.

The plaintiffs say that branding became even harder to shed when the NCAA handed down its sanctions following the release of the Freeh Report, which Penn State accepted in a consent decree. As a result, Kenney and Paterno experienced increased difficulty with finding new employment.

Kenney, an assistant coach with more than 27 years of experience, applied to Division One and National Football League teams throughout the country, losing opportunities to younger candidates with less experience, according to the complaint. After a year of searching and interviewing, he found a job as offensive line coach with Western Michigan University.

Paterno, who worked under his father as quarterback coach for 17 years, found similar difficulties not only with football programs, but also with national media outlets. Producers at ESPN originally approached Paterno about a commentator position, but stepped away as the investigation continued. He now works as a freelance reporter and plans to publish a book.

The plaintiffs are represented by Maurice Mitts of Mitts Law in Philadelphia and Edward Mazurek of the Mazurek Law Firm.

The federal case ID number is 2:14-cv-04365-JP.

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