Judge denies Penn State's 'moot' motion to dismiss Paterno suit

By Jim Boyle | Dec 8, 2014

A federal judge will not dismiss Jay Paterno and Bill Kenney's wrongful termination suit against Penn State, saying the school's motion is moot following the plaintiff's filing of an amended complaint in late November.

Penn State filed its motion to dismiss Paterno and Kenney's lawsuit seeking more than $1 million in damages for the alleged termination from their assistant coaching positions with the football team. The former coaches added one count of breach of contract to the complaint on Nov. 24, and federal Judge Lawrence Stengel has given Penn State until Jan. 7, 2015, to respond to the new filing.

"Erikka Runkle, Penn State’s Human Resources Manager Intercollegiate Athletics, had orally agreed in mid-December 2011 that each Plaintiff would be paid their full salary through the end of the academic year (i.e., through to the end of June 30, 2012)," according to the complaint.

Paterno and Kenney accuse 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 turned the plaintiffs into pariahs and made the plaintiffs' job search more difficult, the complaint says.

Their termination was part of the fallout from former assistant coach Jerry Sandusky's arrest and conviction for sex abuse against male minors on school property. The scandal forced the school to fire legendary coach Joe Paterno and bring in new coach William O'Brien, who brought his own assistant staff.

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.

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