High school sports official claims in lawsuit that PIAA officer retaliated against him

(Scranton) Times-Tribune (TNS)
  • A high school sports official claims he was stripped of choice assignments.
  • The official has filed a lawsuit against the PIAA over the situation.
  • James R. Elliott officiates multiple sports in District 2 (Scranton/Wilkes-Barre).

A high school sports official claims he was stripped of choice assignments because he ran against a state athletic association representative who assigns officiating crews to games, according to a lawsuit.

James R. Elliott alleges William Schoen blocked him from officiating at state and district playoff games because he was angry that Elliott and his brother, David Elliott, each challenged Schoen’s election as an official’s representative with District 2 of the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association.

The lawsuit also claims another PIAA sports official, Luke Modrovsky, unfairly accessed data in the 2018 election for the official’s representative post to ensure Schoen won the position.

Elliott, a Scranton attorney and longtime sports official, filed the suit last month in Lackawanna County Court against the PIAA, Schoen, Modrovsky and Frank Majikes, the PIAA District 2 committee chairman. Alan Boynton, one of the attorneys representing the defendants, filed documents last week transferring the case to federal court.

PIAA "basically ignored me:" In a phone interview Tuesday, Elliott, 51, said the lawsuit lays bare the politics that have polluted the selection process for sports officials within the district. He said he tried to resolve the dispute informally, but the PIAA “basically ignored me.”

“If you ask other officials in our district, they would admit this happens,” Elliott said. “None of them want to get involved because they know it’s expensive to fight the PIAA and they know once they question Mr. Schoen about anything, they will be retaliated against, so they don’t bother and nothing changes.”

Reached Tuesday, Schoen referred all questions to the PIAA. Attempts to reach Boynton, Modrovsky and Majikes for comment were unsuccessful.

Elliott officiates multiple sports: Elliott said he officiates baseball, basketball and football games because he loves sports. The assignments typically pay around $70 for a regular season game and around $85 for a playoff game, he said. He said he filed the lawsuit to expose problems with the system and to force the PIAA to address them.

“It has nothing to do with money,” Elliott said. “I want to make it abundantly clear what is going on in District 2. ... These guys are on a power trip that’s been going on too long.”

According to the lawsuit, Elliott has officiated games since 1998. He says he is exceptionally well-qualified and was routinely assigned playoff games until 2017, when David Elliott first challenged Schoen for the official’s representative position.

Alleging pattern of retaliation: The suit says Schoen publicly displayed his anger, rebuking supporters for not standing up for him. He and Majikes, who supported Schoen, then began a pattern of retaliation against James and David Elliott either by refusing to assign them playoff games or convincing others not to do so, the suit says.

Unable to halt the retaliation, James Elliott decided last year to run against Schoen for official’s representative. The election was handled through an online program known as “Survey Monkey.”

Access to election results? The suit alleges Modrovsky had access to election results through a position he held with Wilkes University in Wilkes-Barre. He used that access to advise Schoen’s supporters they needed to rally support for him because the election was close. Schoen ultimately won the election.

The suit says Elliott learned of Modrovsky’s actions from a retired state trooper, who told him Modrovsky admitted to him at a basketball event that he was monitoring the election to benefit Schoen. Elliott said he reported the alleged infraction to the PIAA, but the organization did virtually no investigation before determining the claim was unfounded.

The lawsuit seeks damages for violations of Elliott’s state and federal constitutional rights. It asks a judge to take several actions, including invalidating the 2018 election and to order Schoen to stop retaliating against Elliott and his brother. It also asks a judge to declare the PIAA’s assigning practices are unconstitutional and to award Elliott compensatory and punitive damages and attorneys fees.