A Catholic high school football coach who was fired in connection with a hazing incident has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the school and the Catholic Diocese of Sacramento. Chris Cerbone, the head football coach, and four other coaches were fired in January, and five football players were expelled after the hazing incident of a sexual nature came to light in December. The four coaches were reinstated in January when Mary Ellen Ryan, the principal of St. Patrick-St. Vincent High School, cleared them after the school investigated the hazing allegations.
Cerbone was not reinstated because Ryan determined he had ultimate responsibility for supervising the students at the time the inappropriate behavior took place. In the lawsuit, Cerbone claims freshmen players informed him on Dec. 19 of hazing and sexual misconduct by varsity players. Cerbone said the players told Coach Sean Morris about the sexually abusive hazing but Morris said it wasn’t his problem. Cerbone said he informed Child Protective Services and Chaplain Jeff Henry about the hazing allegations and wrote a letter to Ryan in which he advised her to contact police.
According to Cerbone, Ryan said contacting the police would not be necessary and she said she would discuss the allegations with Morris. After the winter school break, Cerbone said he was informed on Jan. 21 he and the four other coaches would be placed on administrative leave while Ryan and the Diocese conducted an investigation of the coaches, students and their families. Cerbone said he told Ryan and the Diocese’s assistant superintendent on Jan. 23 he had no prior knowledge about the incidents and believed police should be informed. Two days later Cerbone said, he was informed in a letter from Ryan that he was fired from the job he held since August and the four other coaches were reinstated.
“Whether or not you had direct knowledge of the hazing activities at the time they occurred, the fact that they could have been prevented by proper supervision makes this lapse unacceptable’ Ryan said in the letter, according to the complaint. “I reported the abuse because I wanted to stop it and to protect the kids from any further harm. It was a complete shock to be fired for doing the right thing,” Cerbone said today in a news release about the lawsuit. “This is a classic case of whistleblower retaliation,” one of Cerbone’s attorneys, David Lowe said.
“The Diocese should be ashamed of its role in firing a teacher for reporting sexual abuse,” Lowe said. The suit alleges Cerbone suffered defamation, wrongful termination and retaliation, and it seeks lost wages, emotional distress damages, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees and costs. Kevin Eckery, spokesman for the Sacramento Diocese, said the Diocese “stands by its actions, but if served with the complaint, will review it and respond accordingly.”
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