The former Rossford schools athletic director is claiming defamation after he was let go when complaints of harassment were filed against him by the high school cheerleading squad.
Patrick Murtha has filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court, naming Rossford Exempted School District, the board of education and Superintendent Dan Creps – in both his official and individual capacity — as defendants.
Murtha claims violation of the 14th Amendment, which says “no state shall … deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.”
He was hired in 2004 as assistant high school principal and in 2017 as athletic director. His employment was terminated in 2019.
Murtha is asking the defendants to publicly recant defamatory and false statements; that any material in his personnel file be expunged; that he be awarded civil and compensatory damages in excess of $1 million; that he be awarded punitive damages in excess of $1 million; and that defendants pay his costs for this action.
He has demanded a jury trial.
Creps, when contacted said Murtha’s allegations were false.
“We’re confident that none of those terms were violated,” he said about the agreement reached regarding Murtha’s departure.
According to court documents, in late January 2019, several members of the high school cheerleading squad asked for new uniforms. As the various athletic teams follow a uniform rotation system, Murtha denied the request since it was outside the scheduled rotation.
On or about Feb. 6, 2019, one of the disgruntled cheerleaders was overheard in class saying she would get Murtha fired in retaliation for declining the request for new uniforms.
On or about Feb. 6 and 7, “several high school students/cheerleaders made complaints of harassment related to Murtha,” the document said.
In his complaint, Murtha says he never received a copy of the allegations or complaints against him and was never given a disciplinary hearing, both of which were required by school policies.
He did participate in a fact-finding meeting Feb. 26.
An investigation by the district’s civil rights compliance officer included interviewing at least 12 students, 10 employees and one parent. Murtha asked that additional students be interviewed.
Among the complaints, Murtha often pinched a female student’s nose, tugged on her ear and mussed her hair; stood uncomfortably close; massaged a female student’s shoulders; and told one she “looked hot.”
Murtha denied ever touching a female student as alleged.
The compliance officer concluded misconduct had occurred, but not sexual harassment; and noted Murtha’s suspension from Athens City Schools due to inappropriate comments to and touching of students. Murtha did not mention this prior conduct when hired by Rossford.
The two sides entered into a “transition agreement” on April 22, in which it was agreed that Murtha would not seek renewal of his contract and his employment would cease July 31, 2019.
Within the agreement, it states that no records of a disciplinary nature would be placed in Murtha’s personnel file.
It also states that the board had not concluded that Murtha engaged in any conduct that would require discipline or termination of his contract and that “the board had not concluded that Mr. Murtha committed any offense under R.C. 3319.31, R.C. 3319.39 and/or any applicable laws.”
Those two ordinances deal with engaging in an immoral act, incompetence, negligence, or conduct that is unbecoming to the applicant’s or person’s position; and the previous conviction of any of the offenses listed.
The agreement also states that “nor shall the board otherwise retaliate against Mr. Murtha or Mr. Murtha’s family” and that the parties “make no admission to wrongdoing through execution of this agreement.”
Murtha also waived the right to all claims or complaints “except those which may arise for breach of this agreement. …”
Immediately after the agreement was executed, defendants individually and collectively publicly released an investigation report alleging that Murtha had engaged in multiple instances of misconduct and unprofessional conduct and found that discipline was warranted.
On May 22, Creps sent a four-page letter to parents stating Murtha had resigned, that he was suspended and that he had engaged in inappropriate conduct. Creps also said in the press release that “the findings of the investigation were disturbing.”
Murtha claims in his lawsuit that that information was false, damaged his reputation and employment opportunities without an adequate explanation.
“Said statements and their publication are in direct contradiction to the express terms of the transition agreement,” it states in the documents.
On Feb. 21, Murtha demanded a name-clearing ceremony. The request was denied March 4.
The complaint states that Murtha has a constitutionally protected right to a name clearing hearing and contends that the defendants denied Murtha notice of allegations against him, failed to provide a disciplinary hearing, and also denied a name clearing hearing. Those actions denied Murtha his constitutional rights to due process as well as rights outlined in the district’s policy handbook.
The eight complaints against the defendants listed in the court filing also include breach of contract, defamation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, and negligence.
The negligence complaint stems from what Murtha says is failure to fully investigate the allegations including any complainant’s motive to lie or misrepresent the facts.
The case status is pending.