Tresa Baldas Detroit Free Press
Published 7:50 PM EDT Sep 26, 2018
After blasting the school’s new principal for firing him from a job he loved, ex-Detroit Renaissance High School basketball coach Vito Jordan is firing back — not with words, but with a federal lawsuit.
In a wrongful termination lawsuit filed late Wednesday in U.S. District Court, Jordan is seeking more than $500,000, claiming that his firing two weeks ago was personal, unconstitutional and retaliatory.
Jordan didn’t see it coming.
“For the past five years, Jordan has served honorably as the head boys basketball coach at Detroit Renaissance High School,” the lawsuit states, noting he was blindsided on Sept. 11 when he was fired after meeting the new principal, Verynda Stroughter, for the first time. “In a very aggressive tone and disrespectful manner … Stroughter advised plaintiff Jordan that she was going in another direction for the boys basketball program because she had heard some ‘negative things’ about the program and … Jordan.”
Jordan asked her what she had heard, but she didn’t respond, the lawsuit states. The meeting lasted less than 10 minutes.
That same day, Jordan met with his staff, players and parents and told them what happened. Tensions flared. Controversy followed.
“Upon receiving the news, the players and their parents were furious,” the lawsuit states, noting at least one player quit while parents organized a meeting with the principal.
The lawsuit also cited an ongoing scandal: that the new principal fired Jordan to replace him with a boyfriend.
Jordan wasn’t willing to just walk away, however. On Monday, he was one of three candidates who interviewed for the coaching job. He learned that day that he would not be the coach. Instead, the job went to Mark White, a former head boys varsity coach at Renaissance and current boys varsity coach at River Rouge High School.
White, according to the lawsuit, is the rumored boyfriend. He accepted the position, but changed his mind.
More: Renaissance coach: New principal throwing hoops program ‘in the trash’
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Two days after finding out he didn’t get his job back, Jordan filed his lawsuit against Stroughter, the Detroit Public Schools Community District and DPSCD Superintendent Nikolai Vitti. It claims Stroughter and the district violated Johnson’s due process rights by failing to provide him any kind of termination hearings, and that they have a “personal animus and ill-will” toward him.
Earlier Wednesday, before the lawsuit was filed, the Detroit Public Schools Community District issued a statement defending the decision to hire a new boy’s varsity basketball coach.
“As a new principal began her tenure this fall, she thoroughly reviewed all programs to ensure that the school was maximizing each and every opportunity for the success of our students. During her review of the boys varsity basketball program, she determined, in her discretion, to make a change in coaching staff to reach the next level of excellence. This also occurred for the girls varsity program,” district spokesperson Chrystal Wilson said in a statement. “There was nothing improper, illegal, or unusual with this decision. School level principals have the discretion to make coaching changes. Coaches are not under a binding contract. ”
According to Wilson, Principal Stroughter offered the coaching job to Wilson, who accepted but later declined the offer.
“After threats of litigation, bullying and apparently baseless attacks on his character after the acceptance of the position, Mr. White determined not to move forward with this opportunity at this time,” Wilson said Wednesday, noting a search is still on for a coach who is aligned with the district’s and principal’s “vision of excellence.”
According to the lawsuit, Jordan was never required to sign a written contract while coaching at Renaissance, but rather had a verbal contract that was renewed orally every year, including for 2018-19.
Renaissance, which lost in the Public School League semifinals and in the Class A district final last year, is the favorite to win the PSL title this season.
For Jordan, losing his job was tough enough. But especially gut-wrenching was Stroughter not telling him what she heard about him that made her decide to fire him, he said.
“I’ve never done anything to be detrimental to my conduct,” Jordan has told the Free Press. “She didn’t have anything for me. She’s using the fact that she heard something about me to get rid of me. It’s completely ridiculous.”
Mick McCabe, former Free Press sports writer, contributed. Tresa Baldas: [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @Tbaldas
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