Former OSU band director sues university over firing

Former Ohio State University band director Jonathan Waters on Friday filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court against the university that seeks to get his job back and at least $1 million in damages.

Waters was fired July 24 after an internal report found he turned a blind eye toward a sexualized culture and tolerated sexual harassment within the 225-member band. Waters claims in the lawsuit that the university denied him due process and discriminated against him based on sex, noting that at least one female staffer had been given a second chance in a similar situation.

Waters told reporters on Friday that the report was one-sided, inaccurate and a rush to judgment that tarnished the band’s reputation.

“What the report did was take something that is very special and sacred and to trash it and to drag it through the mud,” Waters said. He said he was actively trying to change band culture by getting students to buy into it.

An investigation spurred by a complaint from a band parent found a culture of sexual harassment and hazing within “The Best Damn Band in the Land.” Members were given raunchy nicknames, performed sexualized tricks on demand, marched into the stadium at midnight in their underwear, and abused alcohol. Investigators said rookies, or new band members, were introduced using sex props or dirty jokes and were groped and given “mid-term exams” that involved sexually explicit behavior on long bus trips.

They also noted that Waters nearly botched the handling of a sexual harassment complaint in March 2013 by trying to punish the victim and the harasser. Investigators noted one band member was expelled after he sexually assaulted a female band mate in the fall of 2013.

While OSU considers the dismissal a closed matter, Waters’ attorney David Axelrod said, “we are here today to tell the Ohio State University that we are not going away.”

Axelrod also released a 78-page transcript of a secret recording made by current band members when they met with OSU President Michael Drake on Aug. 21. In it, Dr. Drake is quoted saying that most of the report was based on historical information and did not reflect the current band atmosphere.

“If the band were behaving as it were reflected in the report then that group couldn’t march and represent the university in this era,” Drake is quoted saying.

Now two former Ohio attorneys general are involved in the case. Republican Jim Petro joined Waters’ legal team. OSU had previously hired Republican Betty Montgomery to investigate the band culture and come up with a plan for changing it.

The case was initially assigned to U.S. District Judge Algenon Marbley, who is also an OSU trustee. It was reassigned to Judge James L. Graham.

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