SHS football coach gets fired by Supt. DeRuosi a day after school officials are served with his lawsuit
By Mark E. Vogler
In a lawsuit served on school officials Monday, suspended Saugus High School football Coach Anthony Nalen accused Saugus Public Schools and Superintendent Dr. David DeRuosi, Jr. of targeting him “as retribution for not backing them up.”
Nalen, who was beginning his second year as head coach, was suspended last month after allegations that he had ordered one of his players to practice in his underwear as part of a hazing incident. An investigation by Saugus Police cleared Nalen of any criminal misconduct after determining there was insufficient evidence to substantiate the allegations.
Even so, a spring incident which didn’t involve Nalen – not the incident involving a player practicing in his underwear – is the reason why school officials initiated “false and fraudulent accusations” and eventually suspended Nalen, the ex-Sachems coach alleged in his five-page complaint filed in Essex County Superior Court.
On Tuesday, a day after that lawsuit was served on school officials, Belmonte Middle School Principal Myra Monto walked into Nalen’s classroom where he teaches computer science and handed him a termination letter from DeRuosi, according to Nalen’s attorney, Michael R. Castano. “We filed the lawsuit last Friday – it got served on Monday – and the first thing they do is retaliate by firing him,” Castano told The Saugus Advocate in an interview Wednesday.
“They went after my client on trumped-up charges. We alleged in the complaint that there had been activity taken by the administration to go after my client for an incident that happened in the spring. This was an incident that had to do with another student, but didn’t have anything to do with my client,” Castano said.
He continued, “They fired him [from the coaching job] in the middle of class. Quite frankly, he didn’t know what was going on. This is just the continuation of the personal vendetta they are waging against my client. The police investigation already clears him, and yet he continues to take a hit on his reputation because of these unfounded allegations.”
Threats from school officials?
The lawsuit filed by Nalen seeks reinstatement to his position as head coach. A hearing was scheduled for yesterday in Essex County Superior Court in Newburyport on that motion.
But even if the judge denies the motion for reinstatement, Castano said, his client plans to continue with the lawsuit, seeking unspecified monetary damages “for emotional distress and harm as well as pain and suffering.”
The court complaint refers to an incident in which DeRuosi contacted Nalen about one of his players who “had an issue with the school.” The superintendent called Nalen into a meeting which was also attended by Saugus High School Principal Michael Hashem and Nalen’s union representative.
“Defendant DeRuosi asked how close Plaintiff [Nalen] was with the player and his mother and would Plaintiff try to get them to back down and drop the issue,” Nalen’s complaint said.
Nalen received a text from the coach of Northeast Metropolitan Regional Vocational High School asking him to call Saugus School Committee Chair Jeannie Meredith after Nalen didn’t contact the player or his mother like the superintendent had requested, according to the lawsuit. Nalen called Meredith and left a message.
“School Committee Chair Jeannie Meredith call[ed] the Plaintiff back and said ‘she was a private investigator and she knew things about the Plaintiff that Plaintiff didn’t know she knew,’” the lawsuit claimed.
“Plaintiff asked her if that was a threat. She said ‘you need to make the right choice,’” it continued. “Chair Jeannie Meredith then said ‘I know you don’t make as much as you should and we can have that conversation down the line.’”
Nalen said he emailed DeRuosi for a meeting to discuss his conversation with Meredith, and he also complained about her conduct.
“About a week later Plaintiff was called into Defendant DeRuosi’s office and was accused of defaming the character of Saugus School Committee Chair Jeannie Meredith,” according to Nalen’s court complaint.
“Plaintiff’s union representative told me Defendant DeRuosi wanted Plaintiff’s resignation,” it continued.
The court complaint also mentions that Nalen showed DeRuosi the text message he received from the coach at Northeast Vocational.
“Defendant DeRuosi said he would be looking into it but Plaintiff never heard about the incident again,” the court complaint noted.
The Aug. 17 incident leads to suspension
Football camp began for Saugus High on Aug. 17. Nalen said he explained to the players before their first practice about a policy intended to make players look like a team: They are allowed to wear black, red or white/gray shorts only. If a player shows up in different colored shorts, he or she is asked to go to the locker room to change into the appropriate colored shorts or to wear football pants supplied by the school.
Nalen noted in his lawsuit that 17 players were asked to go back to the locker room and change into appropriate colored shorts during the first two weeks of practice. “None of the coaches saw a player come out in underwear or they would have been asked to go back to the locker room,” the court complaint said.
“On August 17th, a player came back onto the field in boxers or compression shorts. On that day that player returned to the field wearing what appeared to be appropriate colored shorts that did not cause any of the coaching staff to notice any problem. The student participated in the rest of the practice without incident,” the lawsuit continued.
Eleven days later, on Aug. 28, Nalen said, the superintendent informed him of the allegations and “told me to keep quiet.” DeRuosi suspended Nalen on Aug. 30, “pending an investigation.”
“On Aug. 30th Plaintiff received a text from the player in question saying that neither his mom nor he complained to the school but rather the school called them and told them they had to complain,” Nalen alleged in his court complaint.
Nalen said he and Attorney Castano went to the Saugus Police Station on Sept. 6 “voluntarily” and gave them a recorded statement. The coach said he also brought videotapes of the practice in question. “These videos and pictures conclusively show that there is no player out on the field that looks like they are in their underwear and they further show that no hazing took place,” according to the lawsuit.
“Despite this evidence plaintiff was not allowed to coach in the opening game on September 7th. On September 11th the police completely exonerated the [coach] and gave the report to the Defendant Saugus Public Schools and Defendant DeRuosi. Plaintiff still has not been reinstated as coach despite being cleared of all wrongdoing in the ‘independent’ police investigation,” the lawsuit continued. “Plaintiff is being targeted by the Defendants as retribution for not backing them up during the issue with the player in the spring. There is no valid reason for the Plaintiff to still be on suspension.”
“Failure to supervise”
On Tuesday, Nalen learned the official reason for his dismissal was “failure to supervise” in the case of the incident of allowing a student to practice in his underwear, according to Attorney Castano.
“Again, this is something that my client was cleared of by the police investigation,” Castano said in an interview Wednesday. “And now we’re learning that ‘the independent investigation’ the superintendent is referring to was his own investigation. How can he say that’s independent?”
There was no information available at press time on the outcome of yesterday’s court hearing in Newburyport.