Former Mt. Pleasant Area boys basketball coach sues school district
Former Mt. Pleasant Area High School boys basketball coach Don Porter sued the school district this week claiming he was unlawfully fired after he made numerous complaints about being verbally harassed by a veteran school director.
Porter alleges in the 11-page lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh that the case falls within the state’s whistleblower statute because he made numerous complaints to school officials about being harassed about an injury claim and his coaching performance by longtime school board member Warren Leeder. Porter says the board never acted on Leeder’s conduct.
Porter, who is not a teacher in the district, coached the basketball team from September 8, 2014, until March 12 when he was fired by the board.
“Porter made good faith reports of wrongdoing within the meaning of the whistleblower Law when he reported Mr. Leeder’s harassment and discrimination based upon his (physical disability) which is illegal and in violation of the school district policy and (federal and state laws), the lawsuit said.
Porter, who wears a leg brace because he suffers from diabetic nerve damage in his legs, alleges in the lawsuit that the problems with Leeder began Jan. 8, 2018, when he slipped on ice in the school parking lot after attending a girls’ basketball game. He mentioned the incident to athletic director Allan Bilinsky “to let the custodians know that salt could be placed on the school walkways.”
Porter subsequently filed a worker’s compensation claim that was approved by the school district, but he alleges Leeder also began repeatedly harassing him.
“What the hell are you doing trying to get the janitors in trouble?’,” Porter quoted Leeder as telling him on Jan. 29, according to the lawsuit.
A few days later on Feb. 12, Porter alleges that Leeder again “berated” him as he headed to the locker room with his team that lost by two points to Yough High School.
“…you blew a big lead… no heart, you’re terrible’,” Porter alleges Leeder told him, according to the lawsuit.
Leeder, 79, who has on the board on and off for nearly 30 years, said he was not aware of the federal lawsuit when contacted Thursday, but denied Porter’s allegations.
“That’s not the truth. It never happened,” said Leeder before he declined further comment because the matter is in litigation.
School board solicitor Gary Matta also declined comment saying the board hasn’t received notice or a copy of the lawsuit yet.
After the season ended with a 4-20 record, Porter contends in the lawsuit that he was given a satisfactory rating by the school administration, but still unlawfully dismissed by the board.
Porter alleges that the firing was also due to his physical disability and violates the federal Rehabilitation Act.
“(The school district’s) unlawful employment practices caused Porter to suffer damages including but not limited to lost income, benefits, emotional distress, mental anguish, embarrassment, humiliation, harm to his reputation and inconvenience,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit also notes that in April, a $95,000 judgment was entered in federal court against the school district in a separate disability discrimination complaint filed by school district athletic trainer Michelle Yackovich.
Porter’s lawsuit filed by Pittsburgh attorney Thomas B. Anderson seeks unspecified damages, reinstatement to his position, back wages and costs of the litigation.
Paul Peirce is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-850-2860, [email protected] or via Twitter @ppeirce_trib.