Ex-Ohio State band director files defamation suit

In this Nov. 19, 2013 photo, Ohio State University marching band director Jon Waters poses for a photograph at the Steinbrener Band Center in Ohio Stadium before practice, in Columbus Ohio. (AP Photo/The Columbus Dispatch, Eamon Queeney)
In this Nov. 19, 2013 photo, Ohio State University marching band director Jon Waters poses for a photograph at the Steinbrener Band Center in Ohio Stadium before practice, in Columbus Ohio. (AP Photo/The Columbus Dispatch, Eamon Queeney)

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) – The former director of Ohio State University’s marching band filed a new lawsuit Friday claiming the school has damaged his reputation so much that he can’t find work despite previously being among the most respected directors in the field.

Jonathan Waters is seeking $1 million in damages for his allegations of violation of privacy, defamation and slander. It’s his second legal action against the school since he was fired in July after an internal investigation concluded he ignored a “sexualized culture” inside the celebrated band. He’s separately pursuing a federal civil rights claim of gender discrimination.

Waters’ iPad-designed halftime shows were considered revolutionary. They’ve garnered hundreds of thousands of YouTube views for what fans know as The Best Damn Band in the Land.

Despite that reputation, Waters says he’s applied for more than 40 high school and college marching band jobs since he was fired and has gotten no offers.

Friday’s suit cites a newly surfaced letter from School of Music Director Richard Blatti, who wrote to Waters’ parents last fall saying Ohio State’s board of trustees ignored his input opposing the firing and that he threatened to resign over the decision. Blatti issued a statement this week saying he understands the circumstances better now.

Waters’ legal team, funded through a donation campaign led by band alumni, introduced the letter for the first time Wednesday as part of his federal suit. They argue Blatti’s statements should allow them to include trustee interviews and emails in their review.

A federal judge has dismissed Waters’ claim that the university violated his constitutional right to due process and has given him four months to prove the claim that he was treated differently than a similarly situated female employee. Waters says he was scapegoated because he is a man and the university was trying to address federal Title IX sexual harassment allegations in an ongoing U.S. Department of Education investigation that was swiftly settled after he was dismissed.

The university stood by Waters’ firing Friday.

“This new filing only confirms that Mr. Waters’ claims in federal court and his lawsuit there are without merit and failing,” spokesman Chris Davey said in a statement. “Ohio State stands firmly behind the actions taken regarding Mr. Waters’ termination and will vigorously defend this lawsuit as it has his first one in federal court.”

The latest suit says Waters was placed in a false light “highly offensive to any reasonable person” by the school’s release of the so-called “Glaros report,” named for assistant vice president for compliance operations and investigations Chris Glaros.

The suit seeks to hold three people liable for actions it characterizes as either malicious, in bad faith or reckless:

– Glaros, whose report the lawsuit contends was “deeply flawed” and riddled with misstatements and inaccuracies.

– Davey, who “embarked on a calculated campaign of character assassination of Waters” using disparaging and defamatory statements, according to the suit.

– President Michael Drake, who fired Waters, for publicly citing the report as immediate justification for Waters’ firing and yet describing its scope days later in a private audiotaped meeting with band leader as focused mostly on the years before Waters was promotion to director in 2012.

Waters says he was addressing the band traditions targeted in the report, which include lewd and sexually suggestive rituals and practices. The university says Waters wasn’t forthcoming about what he knew and it has since introduced evidence of at least one sexual assault claim inside the band that he allegedly mishandled.

(Copyright 2015 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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