Leach loses appeal of wrongful termination suit against Texas Tech

Marilyn Tennissen Feb. 21, 2012, 5:57am


After his high-profile firing from Texas Tech University two years ago, coach Mike Leach may be at the end of his legal fight with his former employer. The Texas Supreme Court on Friday denied the football coach's appeal of a wrongful termination suit against the university.

Leach was fired from his position as football coach in December 2009 amid allegations he mistreated one of his players who had suffered a concussion. Leach claims he was wrongfully terminated, and that the university really fired him to avoid paying him an $800,000 bonus at the end of 2009.

The allegations against Leach, that he made a football player stand in a "confined dark place" – allegedly a tool shed – for hours after the player sustained a concussion, were intensified by the fact that the student player, Adam James, is the son of ESPN commentator Craig James.

Leach claims Craig James used his position in broadcasting to make disparaging remarks about the coach. Leach later sued James and ESPN for defamation.

After his termination, Leach sued Texas Tech for breach of contract. The university claimed it was protected by sovereign immunity as a state facility. However the trial court in the 99th District ruled against the school, stating the university waived its immunity through its conduct.

Tech appealed to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals in Amarillo (Case No. 07-10-0247-CV), which supported the university's immunity claim in January 2011.

Leach then took the case to the Texas Supreme Court. His attorneys argued that sovereign immunity did not apply in this case.

They also raised a concern that Craig James might have committed perjury when statements he made in a Dec. 12 sworn petition did not match earlier testimony. In the sworn petition, James said he was not the one responsible for having Leach fired. But Texas Tech officials testified in previous depositions that the university president and the athletic director wanted to privately reprimand Leach and have him pay a fine and that it was James who wanted an apology and Leach fired.

On Feb. 17, the Supreme Court denied Leach's appeal. The suit is essentially over, but the court will allow the coach, who has now been hired by Washington State University, to continue the litigation without seeking monetary damages. In other words, the justices will let Leach clear his name by showing that Tech denied his right to due process when he wrongfully fired, but he will not be able to collect any money from the school.

In the meantime, Craig James, a Republican, has stayed in the spotlight by joining the race to represent Texas in the U.S. Senate. James and 15 other candidates, including 10 other Republicans, are vying for the seat being vacated by U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.

The word is that the former college and professional football player is having trouble with his campaign. James claims he was "Google bombed," a term for a false or outrageous story about someone planted on the Internet so that it will show up when the person's name is searched in Google. In his case, a search for "Craig James" revealed a story that he "killed five hookers" while he was a student and football player at Southern Methodist University.

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