District 200, former baseball coach reportedly settle lawsuit

Details not available yet, school board puts off vote

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By James Kay

Sports Editor

Physical education teacher Chris Ledbetter and Oak Park and River Forest High School District 200 have apparently reached a settlement in an employment discrimination case lawsuit filed by Ledbetter in Cook County Circuit Court in December 2019 and removed to U.S. District Court in February.

Judge Joan A. Lefkow noted in the court record that the parties had agreed to a settlement at a June 10 hearing. Details of the settlement were not made available.

In addition to the high school, Athletic Director John Stelzer, and the school's former principal, Nathan Rouse, were named as defendants in the lawsuit.

School board members were expected to approve the settlement agreement at their June 25 meeting, but the action item was moved to the next regular meeting.

Ledbetter's attorney, Thomas C. Cronin, did not return Wednesday Journal's inquiries on this matter. District 200 board President Sarah Dixon Spivey and Karin Sullivan, OPRF's executive director of Communications and Community Relations, said the district can't issue a comment until the board approves the settlement.

Ledbetter had been seeking in excess of $50,000 from the district after he claimed the school violated his rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Ledbetter is a recovering addict and, according to a March 11 court filing by the defendants answering Ledbetter's complaint. According to the complaint, Ledbetter believed that was the reason he was removed as OPRF's varsity baseball head coach after 17 years.

In the complaint, Ledbetter claimed he had been sober since 2017 after completing a treatment program to assist him with his dependency issues. During that time, OPRF appointed an interim baseball head coach while he took a leave of absence.

According to court documents, after a month back at the school and leading summer workouts, OPRF "prepared and offered a renewed contract for Ledbetter to serve as Head Varsity Boys Baseball Coach for the 2017-18 season" in late July of 2017. 

The school denied in the complaint that a contract existed.

Ledbetter also alleged his rights were violated when Rouse and Stelzer "required" him to apologize to the athletic department, his colleagues, coaches and assistants.

As a result, he claimed to have "suffered substantial damages as the result of [Rouse and Stelzer's] unlawful actions, including the loss of his job as Head Varsity [coach] and the loss of other ancillary jobs, damage to his reputation, substantial economic loss, severe emotional distress, and other physical and mental injuries."

In its answer to the complaint, the defendants also denied that this happened.

Ledbetter stated later in his complaint that, after he had taken three days off for the flu, OPRF started asking about his movements during the school day and that his colleagues were asked if he had engaged in illegal drug use.

When he returned to the school the following week, Ledbetter was put on administrative leave. He alleged that Rouse and Stelzer "required him to take an immediate drug test." Ledbetter claimed to have passed the drug test he took the day after his three-day absence but was told to resign before the results were in.

OPRF denied all of these claims.

Ledbetter was brought back as a physical education teacher but was not reinstated as OPRF's baseball head coach. Joseph Parenti's interim tag was removed, and he has been the head coach of the program since Ledbetter was removed from the position.

On the same day, March 11, that the defendants filed their answer to Ledbetter's complaint, Stelzer and Rouse also filed a motion to dismiss the case for failure to state a claim.

They argued, as individual defendants, that the ADA "does not allow for liability against individuals who are not 'employers' as defined by the act."

They go on to argue that "employers" are defined by the ADA as "a person engaged in an industry affecting commerce who has 15 or more employees ... and any 'agent' of such person," which, they argue, would clear them of Ledbetter's claims that they violated the ADA.

Two days later, President Trump declared a national state of emergency due to the global outbreak of COVID-19 which put this matter on hold.

At the June 10 hearing, Lefkow apparently was slated to render a decision on the motion to dismiss. With news of the settlement, that issue became moot.


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Reader Comments

24 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Comment Policy

Chris Weiler  

Posted: July 9th, 2020 11:59 PM

@Gregg. Playing the religious/biblical card is a weak hand and typically attempts to misdirect by supplanting logic and reason with mushy, path of least resistance thinking. So, according to your quoted biblical standards of logic, as no one is perfect (or without sin), it then follows no one should say anything that judges, assesses or concludes that someone's actions were good or bad. If we are not to call people out on their poor behavior/choices then what is the point of laws, a code of ethics, discussions/education on character, behavior, responsibility for one's actions, right and wrong or your Ten Commandments that mostly start with "Thou shalt not...?" Fun! Insta your kids... #LordOfTheFliesBackInPlay. Absurd. We need to be better than this.

Gregg Kuenster  

Posted: July 8th, 2020 9:45 AM

Judge, Jury and Hangman. The elite daily comment responders seem to think they have the answers to our problems. Let he who is without sin throw the first stone.

Christopher Bell  

Posted: July 8th, 2020 4:09 AM

@ Chris W. You make some good points and again, those of use who have kids who played for him, know another side. My son (at Ivy LEague now), loved playing for him as black kid, I can tell you OPRF can be hostile on many levels toward kids of color, LBGT etc. so it was very welcome. Again, I hope he remains clean and we all move on.

Chris Weiler  

Posted: July 8th, 2020 2:10 AM

Fascinating. To sum up the recent comment chain... because he was generally considered a good coach, had some wins under his belt and went to rehab, we need to step down off the high horse, relax and he should be given a pass. What's the big deal? It's only high school baseball and this is just how things work. Wow. The standard of that bar is so low anyone can clear it... apparently even with cocaine. This path of least resistance, "awww what's the big deal" gloss over, applied liberally to many issues, subtracts from our ability to create a better culture and model a better way for our youth. The court gave him a pass. Fair enough. Then, he had a choice to make. Feel grateful and fortunate to not have the stain of a criminal felony conviction shadow him for the rest of his life and move on, or feel arrogantly emboldened and sue the school district. Kind of feels like he missed the rehab steps regarding humility and taking responsibility for the consequences of one's actions. As his place of employment was an educational institution, Ledbetter needed to primarily be held to the positive standard of an educator, not whether he was an effective coach. Which I suspect, is why he was not offered his position back.

Kevin Peppard  

Posted: July 7th, 2020 9:14 PM

This is being treated like a tenured position, The next teachers' contract should make these lucrative extra pay opportunities at will and for a year at a time. No one should get these less demanding (than teaching) positions as a property right. Return o the mission of the school: Academics!

Josh Baer  

Posted: July 7th, 2020 7:04 PM

My son Alex Rice played for Chris for 3 years and won the 2012 state championship . That staff did a remarkable job ! Using this situation as an opportunity to bash Led or the school is very silly ! Let's not forget we are talking HIGH SCHOOL baseball No more no less .

Christopher Bell  

Posted: July 7th, 2020 4:28 PM

@ Rob I respect your comment. My guess (no inside info) is he sued as a way to get his coaching job back - again, not justifying behavior - but perhaps he felt if he did his rehab, should have job back. Also, get schools position as well - after all the info in public and relapse, felt had no choice. I hope he remains clean and moves forward in positive way. He is one of the winingest coaches in state history. Rob, I also get that OP Pony came down on you very hard (unfairly) and how that leaves you bitter. LEt it go as have I - not for a few OP ass hats, for your own mental health

Rick Marchetti from Frisco, Tx  

Posted: July 7th, 2020 1:02 PM

@Rob Ruffalo- Led was a heck of a coach who won a State Championship and was runner up twice. As someone who coached quite a few of the kids that fed into his program i can promise you they were disciplined teams. You calling anyone a below average baseball coach is hilarious. With all that talent at your fingertips, how many teams did you lead to the PONY World Series? Zero.

Rob Ruffulo  

Posted: July 7th, 2020 8:30 AM

Chris Bell, I respect your comments. My issue is he financially benefited from this experience. How many other people would keep their full time jobs? He was a below average baseball coach who favored the star players only, and the teams had no discipline. How many people are getting "second" chances in today's world? People getting fired left and right just for inappropriate comments they made. Hiding behind a lawyer is not the answer. Why should the school pay 1 penny??

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: July 6th, 2020 4:44 PM

@Chris W. Unfortunately, "asshats" sue schools and municipalities all the time. It's a fact of life for government entities. I wouldn't get too upset until we see what the details are- OPRF's insurance carrier has a big say in whether to settle or not.

Christopher Bell  

Posted: July 6th, 2020 1:21 PM

Before we get to sacrosanct, lets recall that dealing with drug issues is hard and he did go to rehab (making an effort to turn his life around). My father came back from Vietnam a lifelong, homless herion addict. I tried multiple times to help him kick it - when that beast is on your back, you are not rationale and it effects your brain. Again, not justify and that is a fine looking high horse some of you are one, BUT if he did his rehab, he should get another chance. He was a superb baseball coach and anyone who is perfect, please feel free to opine ...

Chris Weiler  

Posted: July 6th, 2020 11:50 AM

@Bruce. The contracted version is simply this... all these issues are connected. The combined, daisy-chain effect of these connected issues is what contributes to oppressive, unbalanced and often unjust experiences. Misdirection and obfuscation occur when we push the result of these connected issues through a political/legal filter, which is designed to isolate each individual variable in the equation, providing an opportunity to ignore, dilute and/or disempower the sum total of the connected events.

Chris Weiler  

Posted: July 6th, 2020 11:48 AM

@Rob. I agree... it is sad. We have the ability to make different choices, but often it is inconvenient and conflicts with financial or political expediency. So, we continue to fumble our way through this poorly choreographed dance.

Rob Ruffulo  

Posted: July 6th, 2020 6:28 AM

Thank you Chris Weller. Excellent commentary. Nailed the issue right on the head. We are a nation of "a good lawyer" and who you know. Connections and politics...Sad.

Bruce Kline  

Posted: July 5th, 2020 9:04 PM

@Chris. Given your expansive rejoinder to my post - ranging from Mr. Floyd's tragic death and denial of due process, to "loopholes for looters", to the "myth" of "serve and protect" - I wouldn't even know where to begin. So I won't. Have a nice day.

Chris Weiler  

Posted: July 5th, 2020 8:37 PM

@Bruce Kline. Both the court and the prosecutor knew exactly what loopholes they were affording Ledbetter when they "dismissed" charges of possession. So no.... I no longer feel we can hide behind platitudes such as "we are a nation of laws," "in god we trust" or being judged by a "jury of your peers," anymore than we can continue with the conveniently naive perspective that all police are here to "serve and protect." The single word that unites all areas of law enforcement from police officers to the Supreme Court is "discretion." There is a choice in how these matters are handled, with consequences tied each choice. The Cook County State's attorney's Office understood this daisy chain, cause/effect relationship when they "... found he was eligible for the Drug Deferred Prosecution Program." Somehow, Ledbetter was eligible for dismissal of controlled substance charges because he had no "prior violent felony conviction." That was the standard his drug possession charges were held to?! I have no problem with the spirit of the program. I see it this way... "we're not going to ruin your life with a criminal felony conviction for your first offense. In return, you don't get to be an ass-hat and sue the district for damages related to this matter." The problem is that these types of programs often leave gaping backend loopholes that allow looters to stroll through. Because the DPP deal is conveniently offered pre-plea, Ledbetter did not have to admit guilt. Although there is an implication of guilt, pre-plea programs do not require a guilty plea to charges. Screw him and the judiciary that allowed this and countless other cases to be handled like this. George Floyd is murdered by a police officer while being suspected of passing a counterfeit $20 bill. Ledbetter is without question caught and arrested for cocaine possession, without auto insurance and while driving on a suspended license, all of which are being dismissed. Due process!?

Bruce Kline  

Posted: July 3rd, 2020 3:38 PM

@Chris. Under the ADA the choice "to be in possession of and consume cocaine" is NOT covered under the law. What is covered under the ADA are individuals who are being rehabilitated or who have completed rehabilitation. And remember, according to prior reports in the WJ the original charges against Coach Ledbetter - related to cocaine possession which would have denied him ADA protections - were dismissed. So while I largely agree with the sentiments expressed by Rob, Tom and you, we are - in the final analysis - a nations of laws. As such, Coach Ledbetter - irrespective of everything else - is entitled to due process. Right?

Rob Ruffulo  

Posted: July 3rd, 2020 7:25 AM

Thank you Tom McMillan, very good comment. Should also have lost his teaching job. Got away with everything with a slap on the wrist. Another example of more protection for the criminal instead of the victims.

Tom MacMillan from Oak Park  

Posted: July 2nd, 2020 8:58 AM

This guy doesn't have a reputation to damage. How about if he refunds the school for all the time he was paid while he was high. He is a victim alright, of his own selfishness and stupidity.

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: July 1st, 2020 8:56 AM

Excuse me- that's "Insurance Cooperative."

William Dwyer Jr.  

Posted: July 1st, 2020 8:54 AM

OPRF pays around $550,000 in annual premiums to a "Collective Liability Insurance Collective." I believe the majority of any settlement will come from that entity, and that entity would have had a say in any settlement. When the board approves whatever settlement was agreed upon, it will become FOIAable. Then people can discuss actual numbers and facts.

Rob Ruffulo  

Posted: July 1st, 2020 8:05 AM

I agree with Chris Weller 100%. This is another "joke:" by OPRF. An admitted addict teaching young adults?? And he gets paid at the end of the day. What kind of world do we live in? Very profitable for a person to become an addict.

Chris Weiler  

Posted: July 1st, 2020 4:24 AM

The CHOICE to be in possession of and consume cocaine... protected under the ADA the same as someone with a true, 24/7 mental/physical disability or handicap is absurd. The administrative, legislative and politicking policy making that supports this "looters loophole" continue to enable and empower those who choose to make poor decisions. While some people have a biological/neurological predisposition that contributes to being affected by substances like cocaine and alcohol differently than others... it is still a choice (however difficult) to ingest. Life is full of hard choices. Stop whining and modeling the victim mentality for our young and take responsibility for your actions. Choosing to find a supplier. Choosing how much to buy. Choosing to buy it. Choosing to consume it. Every step of this process is an intentional, premeditated choice. Too many of our societal problems (equity, education, racial) are the result of legislation and its administrative application that bypass personal responsibility and natural consequences for people's bad decisions. The ability to so easily evade personal responsibility for our personal decisions/actions, by hiding behind poorly written policies, unions and legislation, continues to weaken our society. Once again, our entire country is embroiled in trying to solve racially divisive, human rights problems. Yet, our society's substrate (legislation, policy making, special interest groups, disinterested administrations/administrators) do not positively support, address or even discuss the most important component - how we conduct ourselves as human beings. So, while we focus on how to address some police officer's (and their administrators) poor decision making, we're going to pay off an educator for his poor decision making in choosing to transport and be in possession of cocaine.

Les Golden  

Posted: June 30th, 2020 7:20 PM

How much do the taxpayers have to foot for the legal fees? $100,000? $200,000? They have to play legal games knowing that, in the end, most civil cases are settled. But then, hey, it's not real money out of their pockets. It's out of ours.

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