COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A state court has dismissed a defamation lawsuit filed by a fired Ohio State University marching band director who claimed that negative statements surrounding his dismissal were slanderous, defamatory and an invasion of his privacy.
In a Tuesday ruling, an Ohio Court of Claims judge found Jonathan Waters became a limited-purpose public figure once an internal investigation uncovered a “sexualized culture” within the celebrated band. That gave President Michael Drake and the university’s press office more leeway in what could be said.
Judge Patrick McGrath noted Ohio State was compelled to investigate after a parent complained of inappropriate behavior inside the band. That meant the school had the right to explain its findings and Waters’ firing.
He said there was nothing recklessly untruthful in a video message in which Drake explained the report and the firing or in the university’s ensuing press releases and statements.
Because findings of the band investigation were a matter of public concern, McGrath said, it was “beyond doubt” that the university had the right to issue public comment and releases about them.
Waters contended band rituals and practices existed before his tenure and his reputation was unjustifiably harmed by misguided attacks. A message was left Wednesday on his cellphone seeking comment on the court’s decision.
In a statement, the university said it had maintained from the beginning that Ohio State acted properly in its handling of the band investigation and in its efforts to change band culture.
“We are gratified that the court has agreed with the university and has dismissed this lawsuit,” the statement said. “Ohio State continues to be focused on the future and supporting our students, and we look forward to another outstanding season by our world-class band.”
Waters has filed a separate federal civil-rights lawsuit claiming he was a victim of reverse gender discrimination and entitled to reinstatement and $1 million in damages. That action is ongoing.