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Fencing Coach Sues Penn State for Wrongful Termination

by on June 05, 2014 12:23 PM

The former fencing coach at Penn State has filed a lawsuit against the university for wrongful termination.

Emmanuil Kaidanov served as head coach of Penn State's men's and women's fencing teams for 31 years. His attorney, Alvin de Levie, filed a lawsuit Thursday in U.S. Eastern District Court of Pennsylvania against the university, Athletic Director David Joyner and Athletics Integrity Officer Julie Del Girono.

The lawsuit says Penn State terminated Kaidanov in August because he allegedly retaliated against an employee who reported a perceived drug offense by a student athlete.

Kaidanov's attorney argues the retaliation allegation is false and therefore his termination was "unjust and wrongful" and the process the university followed to arrive at termination violated his constitutional and civil rights.

The suit asks the court to reinstate his position with the university as well as order compensatory damages including back pay, punitive damages and attorneys fees.

Penn State declined to comment on the pending litigation.

According to the lawsuit, the following events led up to Kaidanov's termination:

In February of 2013, Penn State police summoned a member of the women's fencing team to their department after being told she might have possessed drugs. The suit says that accusation was later proved to be false.

"A member of the Athletics Department staff thought she saw (the student) drop a piece of rolled up athletic tape, which the staff member erroneously concluded, without scintilla of evidence or investigation, was a 'joint,'" the suit says.

The suit alleges that the staff member reported the incident to police without first speaking to the student or Kaidanov.

"The staff member falsely reported (the student) for drug possession, thereby subjecting her to possible criminal sanctions, loss of her position as a member of the women's fencing team, and potential irreparable damage to her future prospects for education and employment," the suit claims.

Police later reportedly cleared the student of any wrongdoing and the student reportedly agreed to a drug test. The result was reportedly negative.

The suit argues that under the university's rules, policies and athletics integrity agreement with the NCAA – which was a result of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal – Kaidanov was obligated to investigate the incident in part "to ensure that each individual is treated with fairness and provided with the optimal opportunity to excel."

Kaidanov argues he was obligated to investigate the false accusation against an athlete "and determine whether any further steps were necessary to resolve this matter to the benefit of (the student) and the fencing team, the Athletics Department and the university." During that investigation, Kaidanov reportedly met with the employee who reported the perceived offense and "expressed his disappointment that the staff member had not informed him of what had happened."

The suit says Kaidanov did not take any further action and did not retaliate against the employee.

In March of 2013, Kaidanov met with Del Giorno, during which he "expressed his reservations regarding (Del Giorno's) job title and the potential for abuse implicit in such a position."

The university renewed Kaidanov's contract in July. Shortly after, Del Giorno reportedly requested to meet with Kaidanov and the suit argues Del Giorno did not provide in advance a purpose for the meeting. During the meeting, Kaidanov says Del Giorno did not say he was under investigation for retaliation.

Kaidanov argues the university denied his right to procedural due process by not providing him with any written documents related to the meeting, the purpose of the meeting, or what was discussed in the meeting.

In August, Kaidanov met with Joyner where he was terminated for alleged retaliation.

"Defendant Joyner terminated Coach Kaidanov without just cause, without notice that his employment was in jeopardy, without an opportunity to meaningfully respond to the charges against him or to rebut the predetermined decision before it would take effect, and without complying with policies and procedures to which the university was bound," the lawsuit states.

A grievance hearing for Kaidanov was held in September. In the suit, Kaidanov challenged the process and described it as "unfair." Specifically, Kaidanov raised concerns because the employee who Kaidanov allegedly retaliated against was not present for the termination process.

During his career at Penn State, Kaidanov led his teams to a combined 12 NCAA‚Äąchampionships.

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Jennifer Miller is a reporter for StateCollege.com. She has worked in journalism since 2005. She's covered news at the local, state and national level with an emphasis on crime and local government.
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