Answering a lawsuit filed in December, Miami University broadly denies allegations that the school forced former strength and conditioning coach Paul Harker out of a job after he took federally-protected paternity leave.
Harker worked in Miami’s athletic department alongside the football team from February 2011 until Miami refused to renew his contract in June 2017. After his wife gave birth to twins in January of 2017, he took just over three weeks of paternity leave protected under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
This sparked a chain of events that, according to Harker’s suit, led to head football coach Chuck Martin — Harker’s boss — telling the young trainer that “his future at Miami was in jeopardy while on FMLA leave” and asking him “whether he wanted to be a ‘football coach’ or a ‘family man.’” The suit claims that Martin and other employees in Miami’s athletic department violated the protections of the FMLA by pressuring Harker to resign before the end of his contract, because they were concerned about what associate athletic director Steve Brockelbank characterized in an email as Harker’s “lack of commitment and communication.”
The university’s response to these claims, which was filed Feb. 9 in Ohio’s Southern District Court, denies any wrongdoing on Miami’s part or responsibility for Harker’s situation.
Beyond the rejection of the legal claims, the response also flatly refutes most of Harker’s allegations.
The simple declaration “The University denies the allegations of paragraph [XX] of the Complaint” is repeated throughout the document, appearing 14 times.
The only claims Miami admits to in the response are basic circumstantial facts. The university confirms that Harker was hired by Miami in February 2011 as the Director of Athletic Conditioning and that Harker and his wife had their first child in October 2014, among other easily-proved truths.
Harker’s lawyer in the case, Christian Jenkins of the Cincinnati-area law firm Minnillo and Jenkins, said Miami’s broad denial is a typical early response to this type of lawsuit. It forces the plaintiff to prove each factual statement going forward.
The lawyers representing Miami, who belong to the large Midwestern law firm Frost Brown Todd, also filed a motion to dismiss the case.
They made this motion on the basis that Martin, Brockelbank and Miami Athletic Director David Sayler can’t be named as individual defendants because they were acting as Miami employees and because Miami University itself is a named defendant in the case.
Jenkins refused to comment on the specifics of the case or on Harker’s current state of mind.
“Miami has just barely answered and had a chance to really say anything about the story,” Jenkins said. “We just want to let the facts of this case come out.”
The next event in the case will likely be a scheduling conference, which will set the calendar for the process going forward. The possibility of a trial, however, is still a long way off.
“It wouldn’t be unusual for it to take a year or two between filing and trial,” said Jenkins.
For more updates on the case, keep an eye on miamistudent.net.