COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Two years after Ohio State University fired its marching band director for failing to rein in a “sexualized culture,” a lawsuit against the university continues even as the ex-director has moved on and the band has a new leader.
Jonathan Waters was fired on July 24, 2014, after a two-month investigation concluded he knew about but failed to stop rituals including students marching partially clad and performing sexually themed stunts that led to sometimes explicit nicknames. His firing was the first high-profile act of the university’s new president, Michael Drake.
Waters, a former band member and assistant director, had led the band since 2012 and created halftime shows considered revolutionary. Videos of the morphing and dancing images the band created on the field, such as a galloping horse and a moonwalking Michael Jackson, have drawn millions of hits on YouTube and landed the band in an Apple commercial.
Last month, the Ohio Court of Claims dismissed one of Waters’ two lawsuits, which claimed the school’s statements surrounding his dismissal were slanderous and defamatory and invaded his privacy.
A look at the case and where it stands:
SHOCK FOR ‘THE BEST DAMN BAND IN THE LAND’
After Waters’ firing was announced, the university released a 23-page report dated two days earlier in defense of the firing and detailing numerous allegations about the culture of the band that goes by the acronym “TBDBITL.” These allegations include rituals such as students marching in their underwear, playing groping games on buses and bestowing sometimes sexually explicit nicknames on members based on suggestive stunts mimicking orgasms, sex toys or body parts.
FEDS APPLAUD BAND INQUIRY AS SEPARATE INVESTIGATION ENDS
Just weeks after Waters’ firing, the U.S. Department of Education announced it was closing a four-year investigation into the university’s handling of sexual abuse allegations. The agency said Ohio State’s investigation into the band set important expectations for “a community-wide culture of prevention, support, and safety.” As part of an agreement ending the federal inquiry, Ohio State agreed to revise certain policies and review the handling of sexual violence and harassment complaints since the 2011-12 school year. Waters’ attorney, David Axelrod, said the close timing of the announcement supported the position that Ohio State “rushed to judgment” in Waters’ case to appease the federal government.
FOLLOW-UP INVESTIGATIONS EXPLORE BAND, FIRING
In September 2014, a group of band alumni released its own findings, a 103-page report that said Ohio State should disavow its first investigative report and immediately reinstate Waters. The report said the university didn’t put enough weight on Waters’ attempt to address and stop older traditions in the band.
Two months later, a task force led by former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery released a 92-page report that found an “undercurrent of inappropriate behavior” inside the band was fueled by a combination of societal pressures faced by students, unclear expectations set by band leaders and ineffective university oversight. The investigation concluded the band’s culture of excellence, hard work and positive traditions remained strong, while making 37 recommendations for improvements.
LAWSUITS OVER THE FIRING HIT THE COURTS
Waters sued the university in September 2014, seeking reinstatement on the grounds it denied him due process and sexually discriminated against him. The claim alleged the university, Drake and a provost engaged in gender-related discrimination by denying Waters a second chance given to a similarly disciplined female employee — in that case, a cheerleading coach.
In May 2015, Waters filed a new lawsuit in the Ohio Court of Claims alleging the university damaged his reputation so much that he couldn’t find work despite previously being among the most respected directors in the field.
The Court of Claims dismissed the defamation lawsuit last month. In April 2015, a judge in the federal suit dismissed Waters’ claim that the firing violated his due process rights but allowed him to pursue a claim of reverse gender discrimination.
LEADERS OF THE BAND
Although Waters’ discrimination complaint continues in federal court, he has a new position and the Ohio State band has a new director. In February, the university named Christopher Hoch, the interim marching band director, to the permanent position effective through May 31, 2020. In April, Heidelberg University, a small, private university in Tiffin about two hours north of Columbus, hired Waters as its band director and a music education professor.