Claim Brought from High School Hazing Whistleblower

The following article was written by Cyle Kiger.

ESPN’s “Outside The Lines” recently aired a segment on Florida A&M’s marching band hazing incident that resulted in a death of a drum major.  College campuses nationwide know teams and organizations may administer hazing of students.  In a recent lawsuit, varsity football coach and plaintiff, Patrick Cornelius, blew the whistle on a few students hazing another in a bathroom that resulted in termination.

The plaintiff is bringing his suit against four different parties: the town of Milford, Massachusetts, Michael Tempesta (Principal of Milford High School), Richard Piergustavo (Athletic Director of Milford High School), and Robert Tremblay (Superintendant of the schools in Milford).

Cornelius, a former graduate of Milford High School, was the assistant varsity football coach at Milford and was looked up to by players and parents as he played football at the collegiate and professional level in the United States Football League (USFL).

He described the incident that occurred only as hazing and bullying under Massachusetts law, such as false imprisonment and assault by two members of the varsity football team against one of their teammates in the locker room before practice. The victim in the case indicated that he was forced into a bathroom stall with another teammate against his will.  The hazing was brought to a halt only when Cornelius ordered the students out of the stall.

Immediately going to the head coach and athletic director, Cornelius blew the whistle on the incident.  With many unethical situations occurring more often in sports, this was absolutely the right thing to do in my opinion.  The athletic director of the high school, Pierguastavo, told Cornelius minutes after he reported this, that he “was done for the day,” according to the claim.

Later, the two suspects in the hazing incident expressed that they were afraid of their coach due to the manner in which he handled the situation.  Cornelius was then advised he was being placed on administrative leave through what had been described as fear in the young athletes.

In the case of the bullies, each received a two game suspension in which Cornelius voiced his disapproval.  He believed that the students violated Massachusetts State law and Milford High School’s harassment policies.   Cornelius was told that he could seek counseling, which he refused, or he would not be able to coach any sport at Milford High School.  As a result of his decision not to pursue counseling, Cornelius was terminated.

On his behalf, the players signed a petition in hopes that the former professional football player could rejoin the team as an assistant coach.  The young football players’ actions to have Cornelius back on the team seems to speak miles about him, so why did he get terminated?   Were the two bullies genuinely afraid of their coach, or were they attempting to save their own reputation and throw Cornelius under the bus?

The plaintiff is seeking restitution on two counts: retaliation in violation of Massachusetts Whistleblower Act and intentional interference with advantageous relations and employment contract.

Cornelius is seeking damages against the defendants for retaliation in violation of the Massachusetts Whistleblower Act (146§185).  Under this act, Cornelius must prove that the town of Milford took a retaliatory action against him; this can include discharge, suspension or demotion of the employee.

The city of Milford and the school should not have taken any action against the plaintiff because of the following:

  • The plaintiff reasonably believed that he witnessed an action that was in violation of not only Massachusetts State law, but the incident is also banned from Milford High School in the student harassment policies.
  • The plaintiff provided information to the employer about an activity that posed a risk to public health, safety and the environment.
  • The plaintiff objected to the actions that occurred on the day of the incident and what remedies took place afterwards because he reasonably believed that the events that took place were unlawful.

The suit claims that the town of Milford terminated the coach without due process, without cause and in a disparate manner.  The plaintiff claims he continues to suffer damages through loss of income, professional opportunities and reputation.

On the second count, the plaintiff claims that the defendants intentionally interfered with his contractual relationship with the school and the city.   Cornelius is requesting that the Court grant him relief in back pay, damages under the Massachusetts Whistleblower Act, compensatory and consequential damages, attorney’s fees, and costs that the Court deems proper.

 Severe punishment should result from hazing in all levels of sport.  Deaths occur on a regular basis as seen with the Florida A&M case.  Time will tell the adverse effects the victim in this particular case will have and hopefully it is something he will be able to forget about.  Schools at every level should take note on what has happened in this case.  Terminating Cornelius for whistle blowing in a situation that presented itself in a moment’s notice was, again, absolutely the right move, and for him to get punished is absurd.