FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Phillip G. Steck, Attorney
March 19, 2008 (Cooper Erving & Savage LLP)
FORMER ATHLETIC DIRECTOR SETTLES FIRST AMENDMENT LAWSUIT AGAINST AVERILL PARK SCHOOL DISTRICT FOR $567,500
Lou Cioffi served as Athletic Director of the Averill Park Central School District from 1981 to 2002. The School District terminated his employment, claiming it was saving money by combining his position with another. Cioffi was the only person who lost his job as a result of the alleged reorganization.
In July 2002 Cioffi filed a lawsuit against the School District in the United States District Court for the Northern District of New York. Cioffi asserted that he had been fired for complaining to the School Board concerning how the School District had handled a severe hazing incident which occurred in the football locker room. A public employee, such as Cioffi, cannot be terminated from employment, or have his job eliminated, for speaking out on a matter of public concern.
The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit ruled that Cioffi’s had spoken out on a matter of public concern. For example, the hazing incident was widely reported in both the print and TV media. Cioffi was one of the administrators who uncovered the hazing incident. For years, he had warned against certain practices in the football program, including use of performance enhancing substances.
The School District had asked the United States Supreme Court to review the Appeals Court decision in favor of Cioffi. The Supreme Court refused to hear the case.
On March 17, 2008, after five years of litigation, the School District settled the lawsuit for $567,500.
Cioffi’s attorney, Phil Steck, said: “The School District fought this case tooth and nail for years, even taking it to the United States Supreme Court. But Lou Cioffi had the strength to persevere and, I am most happy to say, in the end achieved justice. Even a schoolboy should know that it is wrong to retaliate against a person for expressing his views.
This is a clear case of a man illegally forced from his job. Lou is to be congratulated for having the courage to speak out and to defend his right of free speech in Court.”
Cioffi’s reputation was such that he was able to obtain replacement employment. He is now Athletic Director at the Cornwall Central School District in Cornwall-on-Hudson, New York.