Former PSU fencing coach files suit against university, Joyner, Del Giorno

Penn State’s longtime fencing coach, who was fired last year allegedly for retaliating against a staff member who had reported a player for a drug violation, wants his job back and more than $3 million in damages, according to a federal lawsuit he has filed.

Emmanuil Kaidanov, who spent 30 years as Penn State’s fencing coach, is suing the university, athletic director Dave Joyner and athletics integrity officer Julie Del Giorno for wrongful termination, breach of contract, and violation of his constitutional and civil rights, among other claims.

Philadelphia-based attorney Alvin de Levie alleges that the defendants conspired to fire his client, Kaidanov, under false pretext and denied the former coach due process.

De Levie argued that Penn State officials kept Kaidanov in the dark about allegations against him until an August 2013 meeting, when he was informed of his termination, and that the defendants failed to provide evidence to back up the charges and denied him a chance to have representation during a grievance hearing on the matter.

“The defendants conspired at all times, acted intentionally and with malice toward (Kaidanov), or in the alternative acted with reckless disregard for the truth, willfully devised and fabricated pre-textual reasons, explanations and claims upon which to falsely” justify his firing, de Levie argued in the filing.

A Penn State spokeswoman said the university doesn’t comment on pending litigation.

Kaidanov was fired in August 2013 for an alleged violation of the university’s retaliation policy, and in October, a Penn State human resources officer upheld the decision.

According to the narrative in the lawsuit:

In February 2013, a staffer saw a member of the team drop a piece of rolled up, white athletic tape and mistook it for marijuana.

The staff member, without going to the player or coach, reported the young woman for possible drug possession.

Penn State police investigated and cleared the player. The coach also became involved, talking with the player and her parents and encouraging the young woman to take a drug test, which she passed.

The coach then went to the staff member and “expressed his disappointment” that he hadn’t been informed of what had happened.

But he “expressed no intention to take any further action ... threatened no adverse employment action ... and undertook no adverse actions against her,” the lawsuit said.

Kaidanov argues that he was required to take action to comply with his duties and obligations as a head coach under the university’s athletics integrity agreement and the code of conduct for intercollegiate athletics.

Then, in July 2013, Kaidanov was called into a meeting with Del Giorno, who asked the coach about the incident but offered no information that a complaint had been made about him, or that he had violated a university policy, according to the suit.

“Defendant Del Giorno purposefully failed to advise (Kaidanov) of any allegations against him which could lead to discipline, up to and including termination, and purposefully misled (him) to the false belief that there was ‘nothing to be concerned about,’ and that no event worthy of discipline had occurred,” de Levie wrote in the suit.

In August, Kaidanov was called into a meeting with Joyner, at which time the athletic director informed the coach he was being terminated. The former coach alleges that he was kept in the dark again about the reason for the meeting.

Joyner allegedly said during the meeting that he had lost confidence in the coach and, for the first time, revealed that Kaidanov had been accused of retaliating against the staff member who had made the drug violation report.

“Prior to the meeting, the defendants had already conspired to terminate (him),” de Levie wrote in the suit. “The meeting was merely to effect this termination on the pretext of a previously undisclosed and undocumented charge of ‘retaliation.’ ”

At a grievance hearing in September, Kaidanov allegedly was denied the opportunity to be represented by counsel.

He claims in the lawsuit that the hearing was just a show to rubber-stamp Joyner’s decision, and that the university offered no evidence of wrongdoing.

“The grievance proceedings were merely a pretense, and were conducted for the sole purpose of endowing the defendants’ actions with the illusion of validity and substance, while forgoing all indicia of procedural due process and any recognition of (Kaidanov’s) constructional and civil rights,” de Levie wrote.

In the suit, Kaidanov claims he suffered “mental anguish, shame, humiliation and public scorn” in addition to loss of income.

He is suing for wrongful termination, breech of contract, false light, constitutional and civil rights violations, federal civil rights violations and interference with a contract absent of privilege of justification.

Kaidanov is demanding a jury trial.