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Ohio State, fired marching band director settle lawsuits

Photo: AP.

January 18, 2017 09:02 PM

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A fired Ohio State University marching band director has dropped all his legal claims against the university in exchange for it agreeing not to try to recover its costs from him, according to an announcement Wednesday.

Jonathan Waters was fired in July 2014 when the university said he ignored a "sexualized culture" inside what's known to fans as The Best Damn Band in the Land. Waters denied wrongdoing and sued for reinstatement and damages in federal court, alleging gender discrimination. Separate litigation in state court alleged defamation.

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Both lawsuits have been dismissed over the past month.

University spokesman Chris Davey, in response to an Associated Press inquiry, said the settlement leaves in place decisions of the U.S. District Court in Columbus and the Ohio Court of Claims, which had found against Waters before Waters appealed. As the prevailing party, the university would have been entitled to recover costs from Waters.

"Ohio State is pleased this litigation is now concluded and all parties can move forward," Davey said in a statement.

Waters, 40, is now employed teaching music at Heidelberg University. He said Wednesday he was disappointed that a jury never got to hear his case but was gratified so many members of the public were on his side.

"It's a bit bittersweet for me," he said. "The thing for us is that I know from the very moment this all went down that we have the truth on our side and I can stand proud that we told the truth through the entire process and that the public largely sided with that truth — even though the legal process didn't really allow the whole story to be told."

The allegations against Waters stemmed from an internal investigation and report 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.

The report also was questioned by Waters' backers in the TBDBITL Alumni Club and some witnesses who were interviewed. Waters said he had been trying to change many of the activities before he was terminated.

University President Michael Drake stood his ground. He and the university insisted that Waters controlled the band at the time of the probe and was answerable for all of its practices, even those that evolved out of decades-old traditions.

Waters' firing came as a surprise to many band followers. At the time, Waters' halftime shows were considered revolutionary. The morphing and dancing scenes designed on iPads garnered hundreds of thousands of hits on YouTube and landed the already celebrated band in an Apple commercial.

Just weeks after Waters' firing, the U.S. Department of Education announced it was closing a four-year investigation into the university's handling of sexual abuse allegations, prompting allegations by Waters that he had been scapegoated. The agency said Ohio State's investigation into the band set important expectations for "a community-wide culture of prevention, support, and safety."


Credits

By JULIE CARR SMYTH

(Copyright 2017 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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