Tuesday, October 7, 2003

Judge sides with Indiana in Knight lawsuit

By Mark Jewell
The Associated Press

INDIANAPOLIS - A judge on Monday sided with Indiana University in Bob Knight's breach-of-contract lawsuit over his firing as the school's basketball coach three years ago.

Monroe Circuit Court Judge Kenneth Todd granted the university's motion for summary judgment, effectively dismissing Knight's lawsuit without a trial.

"The university from the start has said that it followed the provisions of the contract and fulfilled its obligations, and the court has agreed," school spokeswoman Jane Jankowski said.

Messages seeking comment from Knight's attorney, Russell Yates, were left at his office and home in Denver.

Knight was fired in September 2000 for violating a "zero tolerance" behavior policy by grabbing the arm of a student who he said greeted him by his last name. Knight sued two years later, claiming the university violated his employment contract. Knight, who was at Indiana for 29 years and won three national championships, is the basketball coach at Texas Tech.

The judge ruled that Indiana had the right to fire Knight for any reason before his contract expired in June 2002.

"It is clear from the plain, unambiguous language of the contract that each of the parties intended to reserve, and did reserve, the option to terminate the contract at-will before the end of the specified term," Todd wrote.

Knight's lawsuit claimed the firing cost him more than $2 million in media and clothing contracts as well endorsements and camps.

In a hearing last month, university attorneys argued the school fulfilled its obligation to Knight by continuing to pay him after his firing.

In his ruling, Todd wrote that whether Knight "was discharged with or without cause becomes a distinction without a difference in so far as his compensation is concerned."

Yates has argued that Knight's rights to due process were violated by then-Indiana president Myles Brand, who is now president of the NCAA.

The judge, however, disagreed.

"The reasons pronounced by President Brand for termination of (Knight's) employment were couched in terms of 'uncivil, defiant, and unacceptable' conduct," Todd wrote. "It is difficult to conclude that this characterization rose to the level of defamation likely to foreclose other employment opportunities."

Knight's lawsuit is one of four related to his firing or his actions as coach.

The university has been sued by 46 basketball fans who claim Indiana's trustees violated the state's open-meetings law. The Indianapolis Star also sued seeking access to Knight's employment records, and former Knight assistant Ron Felling sought damages for alleged mistreatment by Knight.

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