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Jay Paterno, Bill Kenney File Federal Lawsuit against Penn State

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Jay Paterno and Bill Kenney, two former assistant football coaches, are suing the university based on claims that the Sandusky scandal ruined their chances of being hired for new positions.

The two filed suit in federal court Monday, each seeking $1 million or more in damages.

Kenney coached offensive tackles and tight ends while Paterno was a quarterbacks coach. Both men are asking the university to issue a public statement confirming that neither committed any wrongdoings, pay their attorney fees and award them past and future damages for loss of employment benefits, as well as compensation for emotional distress.

Neither Paterno nor Kenney were retained in January 2012 when Bill O’Brien took over as head football coach at Penn State. Both argue in the 41-page lawsuit that the allegations surrounding the football program hurt their chances of finding new jobs with Division I college football programs, National Football League teams and national media companies.

Attorneys for Paterno and Kenney say the pair were unable to be hired due to the timing of their firings. They argued the coaches were unfairly brought into the fallout of the sexual abuse scandal due to the investigation conducted by former FBI Director Louis Freeh.

Because they were fired in the midst of the investigation, it “had the effect of branding and stigmatizing plaintiffs as participants in the Sandusky scandal,” though they were not involved in it.

The coaches argue that all of their attempts to find employment have been met with “disinterest and disdain.”

Paterno, who worked for Penn State for 17 seasons, applied for open head coaching positions at the University of Connecticut, the University of Colorado, Boston College and James Madison University. He was not granted interviews at any schools, with one administration reportedly saying it found coaches from Penn State “too toxic” given the findings of the Consent Decree. Paterno also had conversations about commentary positions at ESPN, CBS Sports and Fox Sports but nothing came to fruition with the media companies, according to the lawsuit.

Kenney served as a Division I coach for 27 years. After his termination in January 2012, he applied to various college programs, including Illinois, Wisconsin, Purdue, Virginia Tech, Florida State, Massachusetts, North Carolina State, Boston College, Arizona, Delaware and Syracuse, and National Football League teams, according to documents.

Kenney wrote in the lawsuit that most programs did not want to deal with the public relations that would follow his hiring, so the open positions went to less qualified applicants. Eventually, he secured an offensive line coaching position at Western Michigan University, where his salary is much lower than it was at Penn State.

“Although none of the terminated assistant football coaches, including Plaintiffs, had been found at that time in January 2012 to have committed or been involved in any wrongdoing in connection with the Sandusky scandal, Penn State terminated each of them at the height of the Sandusky scandal’s dark shroud and without any attempt whatsoever by Penn State to preserve the reputations of these guiltless individuals,” attorneys wrote in the court documents.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs also argue Kenney and Paterno were not given the severance packages they deserved. It was standard practice for coaches who were released without cause to be paid their full wages for 18 months beginning on July 1 following a termination. They say they were told in December 2011 by a Human Relations manager that if they were not retained, their severance packages would begin July 1, 2012. But the coaches say Penn State purposely accelerated the severance so it began in January 2012 rather than July 12, thus ending it six months early.

In this way, attorneys say Kenney and Paterno were denied six months of payments and benefits. They ask through the lawsuit for the university to pay those wages to the coaches, in addition to punitive damages for civil conspiracy, intentional interference with prospective contractual relations, civil rights violations and violations of Pennsylvania employment law.

Paterno and Kenney are represented by Maurice Mitts and Edward Mazurek. Penn State did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

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About the Author

Jessica Tully

Jessica Tully is a first-year law student at Penn State's Dickinson School of Law. She graduated in May 2014 with degrees in journalism and political science.

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