Ohio State ex-band director says trustees decided on firing

Published May. 6, 2015 2:44 p.m. ET

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) Fired Ohio State marching band director Jonathan Waters alleged Wednesday that the university's board was directly involved in his dismissal and asked a judge to let him use other employment actions by the trustees in his lawsuit against the school.

Waters was fired in July after an internal investigation concluded he had ignored a ''sexualized culture'' of raunchy, profane and suggestive rituals within the band and mishandled at least one report of sexual harassment.

Waters had been hired in 2012 as band director at Ohio State, one of the nation's largest universities. He revolutionized the halftime shows for a group known to fans as The Best Damn Band in The Land, creating morphing shapes that drew hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube and landed the troupe in an Apple commercial.

In a court filing, Waters cites as evidence a handwritten letter to his parents by School of Music Director Rick Blatti. In the Sept. 27 letter to John and Peggie Waters, Blatti cites the board's role in the firing and says it happened without his knowledge.

''Recent events have my stomach in knots, my disappointment in our board of trustees profound, and my belief in our university shaken,'' Blatti wrote. He wrote that he was unable to access the ''powers to be'' despite threatening to resign himself.

''It's as if the board answers to no one and the days of faculty governance are all in the past,'' Blatti wrote.

A university spokesman said in a statement that the letter is irrelevant to Waters' remaining claim in the federal lawsuit.


Blatti said in a statement released by the university Wednesday that he wrote the letter solely to console Waters' parents, and since then has gained ''more understanding of the reasoning behind the university's decision and the process behind it.''

Waters sued over his firing in September, seeking reinstatement on the grounds that the university denied him due process and discriminated against him.

U.S. District Judge James Graham threw out part of the lawsuit but said Waters could try to prove a gender discrimination claim. To succeed, Waters needs to show that he was treated differently than a similarly situated female would have been treated.

At a hearing Friday, Graham severely limited the other cases he could use as comparison. They included that of a fired female cheerleading coach; other cases involving the School of Music or other departments directly involved in his firing; and other decisions by President Michael Drake.

Waters' attorneys on Wednesday asked Graham to investigate decisions made by the board of trustees in search of other examples to make their case. The filing specifies they'd also like to ask for communications to and from members of the board concerning the decision to terminate Waters.

The university argued Friday that such an expansive search would be unreasonable and overbroad.

In his letter, Blatti told Waters' parents the university confiscated and searched his laptop so he decided to handwrite them a letter to express his disappointment about the firing. Records released by the university in connection with the firing included Blatti's positive job performance review of Waters just months before he lost his job.

''How is it possible that we could have gone from the healthiest and most vibrant band program this university has ever experienced (largely due to the work of your son) to the current circumstances... feelings of abandonment, despair, and wrongful accusation... in just a matter of days?'' he wrote.