Connecticut employment law firm achieves important victory after a long battle
On January 22, 2022, an arbitrator ruled that former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie, represented by Madsen, Prestley & Parenteau LLC, had been improperly fired by the University of Connecticut. The arbitrator’s ruling ordered UConn to pay Ollie $11.2 million, an amount that reflects what he would have been paid if he had not been terminated or terminated without cause.
The result is an important victory for Madsen, Prestley & Parenteau LLC attorneys Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, who have been fighting the case for years. Parenteau told reporters that the ruling was a “total vindication” for the former Huskies coach, who was fired by UConn in March 2018 amid a National Collegiate Athletic Association (N.C.A.A.) investigation into potential violations.
A history of basketball success – and then termination
Ollie played for the Connecticut Pride, a team in the Continental Basketball Association, and the N.B.A, and coached the Huskies from 2012-2018 after succeeding his predecessor, Jim Calhoun. During his six seasons as head coach, Ollie led the Huskies to a national championship in 2014, a conference championship in 2016, and amassed a 127-79 record.
After receiving complaints of rules infractions, UConn instigated an N.C.A.A. investigation. Several allegations were made against Ollie, including improper training sessions and contact with recruits.
Even though the N.C.A.A. investigation was still pending, UConn concluded that several rule infractions had occurred in the men’s basketball program under Ollie’s watch. The university decided to terminate Ollie and gave him an ultimatum to “resign and be paid $600, 000 or be terminated for cause.” Ollie rejected the offer and UConn proceeded to terminate him in March 2018 for “cause,” a designation that voided the remainder of his contract and relieved the university of paying him the balance due under it, which totaled more than $11 million.
Ollie files grievance after termination, alleges disparate treatment
In response to the termination, Ollie filed a grievance and alleged “disparate treatment.” His attorneys Parenteau and Madsen argued that UConn failed to meet its burden of showing “just cause.” A collective bargaining agreement between UConn and the American Association of University Professors, of which Ollie was a member, required a showing of “serious misconduct” to fire an employee for “just cause.”
The university, on the other hand, argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious, that his individual contract superseded those union protections, and that the burden fell to him to prove there was no “just cause” for the termination.
Arbitrator sides with Ollie after Madsen, Prestley, & Parenteau LLC successfully presents case
In the arbitration award published on January 22, 2022, arbitrator Mark Irvings sided with Ollie, successfully represented by Madsen, Prestley & Parenteau LLC.
Irvings wrote in the arbitration decision that UConn’s termination was “predicated on an incomplete investigation, inadequate process, and ultimately a collection of unproven or minor, isolated infractions for which termination was far too severe a sanction.” He went on to say that UConn’s decision was tinged with the self-interest of escaping its obligation to pay Ollie the $11.2 million agreed to in his contract.
Irvings ruled that the existence of the N.C.A.A. proceedings, or its ultimate conclusion, could not be relied upon by UConn to justify its decision to terminate Ollie. At the time of Ollie’s termination in March 2018, the proceedings were still in their investigatory stage. The N.C.A.A. did not publish its final decision until July 2019, 16 months after UConn fired Ollie.
Irvings also rejected the university’s alternative argument that the N.C.A.A. findings could prove the reasonableness of the conclusions it had drawn at the time of Ollie’s firing since these proceedings could not be likened to an impartial adjudicatory process.
Parenteau said the arbitrator’s ruling showed that the N.C.A.A. sanctions were ”erroneous and unfounded.”
“This arbitration clearly established — after 33 days of hearings and the testimony and cross-examination of actual witnesses under oath — that Kevin Ollie did not violate the NCAA rules that were used to justify the draconian sanctions imposed on him,” Parenteau and Madsen said in a statement. “The arbitrator correctly found that there was no just cause to terminate Kevin Ollie’s employment as the head coach of an NCAA basketball team.”
Arbitrator criticizes N.C.A.A. investigation
A large section of the arbitration ruling criticized the N.C.A.A. investigation for structural deficiencies. Among the key takeaways, Irvings faulted the investigation for failing to conduct cross-examination, not focusing on gathering reliable evidence, and not acting impartially.
Irvings also criticized the N.C.A.A. for prohibiting Ollie to have any representatives in the interviews. He wrote that “UConn not only did not seek to protect him in any way, but it essentially turned into the most vigorous prosecutor.” He noted that UConn had fired Ollie for just cause when other coaches accused of similar misconduct hadn’t been fired, let alone with just cause.
The arbitration decision also concluded that UConn had failed to provide adequate due process to Ollie. Under the collective bargaining agreement, employers are required to show the employee the grounds upon which the termination was supposedly based, something Irvings stated UConn failed to do. When the university terminated Ollie, he had little knowledge of the charges made against him and had not been given an opportunity to respond to those charges.
In sum, Irvings stated that UConn’s firing of Ollie was based on “deeply flawed information” and labeled his punishment for the few infractions that were later proven “arbitrary, capricious, and disparate.”
As a result of this decision, UConn recently paid Ollie the residual amount of $11.2 million on his contract before he was improperly fired. He is currently the head coach and director of player development of Overtime Elite, an alternative basketball league for elite prospects between 16 and 18.
Get help from our skilled and knowledgeable wrongful termination attorneys in Connecticut
At Madsen, Prestley & Parenteau LLC, we have been successfully advocating for employees who were wrongfully terminated from their jobs for more than 20 years. If you have been wronged, whether in Hartford, New London, or anywhere else in Connecticut, let us help make it right. Find out how we can help you get justice and compensation for your wrongful termination case. Call us at (860) 246-2466 or contact us online to schedule a confidential consultation to discuss your case.