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

8 Comments - Add Your Comment

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Comment Policy

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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