So, now Coach Art Briles has sued Baylor University for “wrongful termination.” See San Antonio Express News report. The saga of the Baylor University football team reached its apex a few weeks ago when the Pepper Hamilton law firm report was released. The report implicated Baylor University officials, including Coach Briles, in the half dozen or so rapes and sexual assaults committed by football players. As sports scandals go, its a “big un.” It ranks up there with the SMU scandals of the 1980’s.
So, it might seem nervy for Coach Briles to file suit. “Wrongful termination” in itself is not a cause of action recognized in Texas law. But, we can assume that a coach like Mr. Briles, reportedly paid $6 million per year, had a clause in his contract that he could be fired for only good reason or “just cause.” If so, then sure, he could sue for breach of contract. The breach would be in regard to the just cause provision.
So, what would be “wrongful” about his termination? The coach has only spoken once about the firing. He said that he had not seen the evidence used to fire him. He has not seen the Pepper Hamilton law firm report. But, that does not mean the evidence does not exist. Coach Briles and Baylor have already been sued by two alleged rape victims. Those lawsuits alone would be enough to justify most terminations of employees with a “just cause” provision. I find it had to believe Coach Briles truly believes the evidence justifying his termination does not exist. More likely, he is simply trying to get the some sort of settlement with Baylor. It is not an attractive aspect of litigation. But, he is likely betting the school would prefer to settle with him than see dirty laundry posted in court. That is what we call a frivolous lawsuit. It is filed not because it has merit, but because the simple act of filing gives the party some bargaining leverage.
Coach Mike L:each filed suit a few years ago when he was fired. He also argued wrongful termination, among other theories. I wrote about that lawsuit here. But ultimately, his lawsuit lost because state agencies are immune from lawsuits. Baylor does not enjoy similar immunity from suit.
The newspaper report describes Coach Briles’ lawsuit as typical of his “bare knuckled” approach to building a successful football program. It may be bare knuckled. But, it does not acknowledge responsibility for serious lapses on his watch. It also reflects no sense of honor regarding what was essentially his football program.