Former Wrestling Coach Sues Pitt Over Firing
The University of Pittsburgh was hit with a discrimination lawsuit in Pennsylvania Federal Court on Monday, June 4, 2018, by former wrestling coach Jason Peters. Peters claims that Pitt discriminated against him based on him being African-American and denied him of his fourteenth amendment due process rights during the firing process. Additionally, the complaint states that Peters was fired without just cause and that Pitt violated Pennsylvania’s Wage Payment and Collection Law by failing to pay owed wages and provide him benefits. The suit specifically points out that Peters was treated different than Caucasian coaches at Pitt and that the school denied him a chance to respond or defend himself. However, details of the incident leading to his firing are murky.
Peters was hired by Pitt in 2002 after serving as an assistant at Princeton and Harvard. The complaint details his employment history with the university. Peters was named Pitt’s head coach in waiting in 2012 and promoted to head wrestling coach in 2013. Peters enjoyed success as a head coach, leading Pitt to their first ACC championship as well as producing their first ACC wrestler of the year. He was praised by his supervisors, colleagues and media publications for his work. However, an incident that occurred while the team was at a holiday tournament at Northwestern University ultimately lead to his firing on January 19, 2017, by then athletic director Scott Barnes according to the university.
The incidents details are redacted in the complaint, but new information has emerged. The Pitt wrestling team stayed in a hotel near Northwestern’s campus in Evanston Illinois. Peters and his family were staying on the 16th floor of the hotel while the players and other coaches were on the 15th floor. Apparently, police responded to a call from a 22 year old man describing that he and his two 19 year old friends were robbed. Law enforcement said the suspects were three women and had come into contact with the men on backpage.com, which had been the subject of a sex trafficking investigation and is popular amongst sex workers. It is not clear if these men were Pitt wrestlers.
After returning to Pittsburgh, the incident was not mentioned to Peters until he was told he would be suspended for a match on January 13, 2017. The situation got worse from there as Peters was told on January 17, that he did not properly respond to the situation in Evanston. He was subsequently fired on January 19 and was given a letter from the university that accused him of withholding information about the Evanston incident. Pitt believes the firing had “just cause” due to the incident and alleged withholding of information. Nevertheless, the complaint says that Peters had been given assurances that he would not be fired from members of the athletic department before his firing and that Pitt had not fired Caucasian coaches involved in similar situations.
Peters claims that the university never presented him with any evidence of the allegations against him. The complaint seeks for Pitt to reinstate Peters to his position as head coach or award him front pay. Compensatory damages for pain and suffering as well as embarrassment are requested. Peters hopes the Pennsylvania court will agree that he was fired without just cause.