State championship football coach files defamation lawsuit vs. Pa. school that fired him

TONY LaRUSSA
The (Greensburg) Tribune Review (TNS)
Students gather in front of Pine-Richland High School rallying in support of the fired head football coach Eric Kasperowicz Friday, Apr. 16, 2021, in Richland Twp., Pa. (Pam Panchak/Post-Gazette via AP)

Former Pine-Richland High School head football coach Eric Kasperowicz on Friday filed a lawsuit for defamation of character against Pine-Richland School District and several district officials for comments school officials made in the wake of his dismissal.

Kasperowicz, who was informed on April 14 that his contract would not be renewed for what would have been a ninth season at the western Pennsylvania high school, hired attorney Joel Sansone to file the lawsuit in state court.

Sansone said he also plans to file a federal lawsuit against the district for failing to provide Kasperowicz with due process when he was let go.

"During his tenure at Pine-Richland, until now, Eric has never been accused of participating in, or turning a blind eye to hazing, bullying or any like conduct," Sansone said during a news conference Friday at his Downtown law office. "Nor has there been any scandal associated with him, his staff and the football program.

"Suddenly, there's a scheme to oust the coach from his position using lies, half-truths and misinformation to orchestrate his firing and impugn his blemish-free reputation and good name."

Denies hazing or bullying: Kasperowicz, who along with his wife was present at the news conference, has denied that any hazing, bullying or similar conduct occurred under his watch. He has reapplied for his coaching job.

He led the Pine-Richland football team to four WPIAL championships and two state titles in his eight years as coach.

Named in the lawsuit are the Pine-Richland School District, Superintendent Brian Miller, school board President Peter Lyons and assistant high school principal Tom Salopek. The lawsuit does not yet specify what damages are being sought.

Kasperowicz said he decided to take action because his reputation has been severely damaged and "to correct this terrible wrong that has been visited on my community by people who did not have the interest of our students and community in mind.

"With the help of my legal team, I will prove that all the allegations against me are false. I have never condoned the conduct described, and I never will," he said.

Troubling letter: Sansone said while there have been a number of instances where comments made by district officials have harmed Kasperowicz's reputation, a May 7 letter sent to parents by Miller was particularly troubling.

The letter was sent by the superintendent to inform residents that the district planned to move forward with replacing Kasperowicz.

In that letter, Miller wrote that "there is a history of a broad range of issues related to Mr. Kasperowicz and his responsibilities for program management and institutional control."

Miller wrote there are areas in need of development, such as recruiting and failure to report serious matters when the coach became aware.

The superintendent also wrote about an interview between the coach and school administrators.

"We have an individual who refused to take responsibility and ownership for aspects of the football program," Miller wrote. "He deflected questions, minimized serious issues, pointed fingers at others, and at times acted in a combative manner in a 2.5-hour meeting with the administration."

Kasperowicz apologized to the district for his "attitude and behavior" during that late March interview via letter.

Addressing allegations: Miller also addressed the hazing and intimidation allegations in his letter to parents.

He said there were acts of bullying, physical and emotional intimidation, humiliation and rites of passage that are unacceptable and were not reported by Kasperowicz.

Sansone said Miller and other district officials have "impugned my client's character in a very public way."

"This has been accomplished without affording Eric the due process of the law nor giving the chance to confront his accuser as provided by the U.S. Constitution," Sansone said.