The University of Connecticut Settles with Kevin Ollie



In January, Kevin Ollie, University of Connecticut alumnus and former Men’s Basketball Coach, won his arbitration suit against the University of Connecticut (UConn), which resulted in an arbitrator ruling that UConn “improperly fired” Ollie and awarded Ollie $11.1 million. Now, UConn and Ollie have reached another settlement for $3.9 million. The settlement ends the multi-year legal dispute between the university and Ollie.


Ollie’s Tenure At UConn


UConn hired Kevin Ollie as its men’s basketball coach in 2012, replacing legendary coach Jim Calhoun after the latter retired subsequent to the NCAA ruling UConn ineligible for the 2013 NCAA Tournament.


Ollie’s tenure peaked in 2014 when UConn went on a shocking run in the NCAA tournament to win the National Championship as a 7-seed. Subsequently, things went downhill quickly as Ollie and UConn missed the tournament in three of the next four seasons.


In January 2018, the NCAA announced an investigation into the UConn Men’s Basketball team. Then, in March 2018, amid team struggles and the NCAA investigation, UConn fired Coach Ollie, hoping to avoid paying the $11 million remaining on his contract.


Arbitration


Uniquely, a Collective Bargaining Agreement exists between UConn and the University of Connecticut Chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP). The CBA, among other things, governs the grievance procedure when UConn terminates a head coach. The AAUP immediately instituted the procedures on behalf of Ollie.


Article 37 of the Agreement governs Athletics, including head coaches. Section 37.12(A) states, “[d]iscipline or dismissal during the term of an employment contract shall be for just cause.” Subsection (ii) states, “[just cause is defined to mean] [i]nsubordination or serious noncompliance with the University of Connecticut By-Laws, (Revised August 15, 2015), with the Code of Ethics for Public Officials (Chapter 10 of the Connecticut Statutes), or with NCAA rules or regulations.”


At the arbitration, Ollie’s attorneys argued that Ollie was not fired for just cause because, at the time of the firing, Ollie’s actions did not arise to serious misconduct, and the NCAA had not issued a decision on whether Ollie violated NCAA rules. In turn, UConn took the opposite position, arguing that Ollie had violated NCAA rules and regulations and poor on-court performance justified the firing. Thus, UConn had acted appropriately in firing Ollie.


The arbitrator, Mark L. Irvings, partially agreed with the university, noting that the university was justified in firing Ollie. However, Irvings ruled in favor of Ollie because the school should have waited for the NCAA to conduct its own investigation before terminating Ollie. Therefore, Irvings awarded Ollie over $11 million, which the university paid in February.


New Settlement


In 2018, Ollie filed a federal discrimination complaint in the District of Connecticut against the university, alleging that the university attempted to stop him from filing a racial discrimination claim and former coach Jim Calhoun kept his job after committing violations of NCAA rules and regulations.


Judge Kari J. Dooley dismissed Ollie’s complaint, noting that the lawsuit was not ripe due to the ongoing arbitration. Thus, Ollie could pursue a similar claim after arbitration concluded. The $3.9 million settlement is to settle all claims, including any federal discrimination claims.


Perhaps most importantly, both sides can look toward the future after putting their lengthy legal battle behind them.


Landis Barber is an attorney at Safran Law Offices in Raleigh, North Carolina. You can connect with him via LinkedIn or via his blog offthecourtdocket.com. He can be reached on Twitter @Landisbarber.