Judge tosses fired band director’s suit against Ohio State

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A federal judge dismissed the civil-rights lawsuit filed by Ohio State University’s fired marching band director Friday, putting an almost certain end to Jonathan Waters’ two-year legal fight.

Waters was fired in July 2014 for ignoring a “sexualized culture” inside what’s known to fans as The Best Damn Band in the Land. He denied wrongdoing and sued for reinstatement and damages alleging reverse gender-discrimination.

Federal Judge James Graham rejected Waters’ argument that he was treated differently than a similarly-situated Ohio State female employee who faced allegations about “sexualized behavior” on the cheerleading squad.

Graham said the two cases weren’t comparable because Waters engaged in “more serious conduct” than cheerleading coach Lenee Buchman.

The judge also rejected Waters’ argument that he was scapegoated to help resolve an ongoing federal Title IX investigation at Ohio State, which was dropped shortly after his firing. Graham said the university informed federal civil-rights authorities in both Waters’ and Buchman’s cases at essentially the same juncture — after findings and discipline against them had taken place.

Reached Friday, Waters said he’ll confer with his legal team on his remaining options, but attorneys had told a judge earlier that Waters’ funds were exhausted.

“I still remain steadfastly loyal to the students and the alumni who were negatively affected by this situation, and that feeling hasn’t changed for me since Day One,” Waters said. “I’m saddened that we didn’t have the opportunity to present the full case. I guess that, for some injustices, there are just no legal remedies.”

A message seeking comment was left with the university. Ohio State had long argued that Waters was an at-will employee who could be fired for any reason and that he endured no reverse gender bias.

The allegations against Waters stemmed from an internal investigation that uncovered a host of band traditions and rituals that were racy, raunchy or suggestive. Waters challenged the finding that he had known about and ignored the activities, and the report was also questioned by his backers in the TBDBITL Alumni Club and some witnesses who were interviewed.

A subsequent independent review extended some of the blame to inadequate university oversight and student culture.

Graham previously threw out a second claim that Waters’ due process rights had been violated when he was fired, but the judge allowed his case to proceed on the grounds of reverse discrimination.

Ohio State argued in the federal case that Waters’ discrimination claim lacked substance. Its lawyers contended that, as a man in a male-dominated hierarchy, Waters failed to meet the legal standard of reverse gender-discrimination. Graham declined to rule on a law that holds members of a majority to higher standards of evidence in discrimination cases.

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