London Schools reach settlement with former AD
By Jane Beathard
London City Schools and former high school athletic director Terry Nance settled their differences last week, with Nance receiving $18,000 in cash and agreeing never to again work for the district again.
Terms of the settlement agreement prevent Nance and school officials from discussing their arrangement, but left the document open to Ohio’s “Sunshine Law” and media access. In recent days, The Madison Press submitted a formal request for the agreement and other court documents related to the case. Portions of witness depositions concerning school board executive sessions were redacted, in accordance with Ohio law.
Nance, a 33-year London schools employee, filed a lawsuit against the district and former Superintendent Steve Allen last year, claiming wrongful termination and age discrimination in the former AD’s 2010 departure from the system. Allen was later dropped from the lawsuit.
Initially, Nance sought job reinstatement, back salary and damages in excess of $25,000, as well as compensation for attorney fees.
The May 3 agreement, reached after hours of negotiations, avoided a jury trial scheduled for May 9.
Much of the lawsuit hinged on the written resignation Nance submitted to then LHS Principal Tim Keib on March 10, 2010. Ron Parsons, Nance’s attorney, argued his client had no choice but to resign after Keib presented him with a choice late on March 9: Resign or face non-renewal of his contract.
The district eventually hired Ben Mann, 35 years younger than Nance, as high school AD.
Paperwork filed by London native and attorney Mark Landes, who represented the district, disputed Parsons’ claim, saying Nance resigned voluntarily; made no effort to rescind that resignation and did not attend the school board meeting on March 15, 2010, where it was accepted. He said no public policy was violated since Nance was an “at-will” employee.
Landes also pointed to a lack of evidence of age discrimination in Nance’s departure and questioned why the former AD waited for a year to file a lawsuit.
Landes agreed that Nance felt “disrespected” by Keib’s pointed ultimatum, but noted “anger and frustration do not give rise to legal claims.” Landes cited a flurry of Ohio legal cases to back up his position.
Nance voiced that frustration in an Oct. 26, 2011 deposition. He testified Keib caught him off-guard late in the evening of March 9, 2010 with an unsatisfactory job review and a letter that gave him 12 hours to resign or face contract termination.
“I was like a deer in headlights,” Nance said.
He said years of largely satisfactory performance reviews that called him “a valued asset”
provided no inkling his year-to-year contract was in jeopardy.
All that changed about 10 p.m. March 9 as Keib accused Nance of dodging staff meetings, failing to properly administer drug-testing policies and failing to complete required job evaluations — specifically for then head football coach Bill Dennis — on time.
Keib also cited poor public relations skills and sloppy security procedures around the athletic department as additional reasons to end Nance’s employment.
Perhaps Nance should have seen it coming.
Allen’s deposition showed the superintendent and principal began discussing a change of leadership in the athletic department as early as 2007 — the year Keib became principal and a year after Allen became superintendent.
Within months of assuming the superintendent’s job, Allen began taking stock of London’s sports teams and their demeanor on the playing field and sidelines. He didn’t like what he saw.
Specifically, Allen pointed to the high school basketball team and said members “dressed like a bunch of thugs” with no consistent uniform look. Allen was less concerned with many of the Red Raiders’ poor win-loss records than with the image team members presented to opposing schools.
Allen also noted that Nance co-mingled school and personal funds on some occasion, not setting up separate bank accounts.
Together, Allen and Keib decided Nance had to go.
However, Allen cautioned Keib against written reprimands that would end up in Nance’s personnel file where they would become available to the media and make the AD “look bad.”
Similar discussions between Allen and Keib continued through 2008 and 2009. Allen testified he urged Keib to give Nance advance notice of contract termination as early as December 2009, but the principal hesitated.
Allen also feared backlash if Nance fought for the AD’s job. To avoid that backlash, he advised Keib to give Nance only a short time frame to make a decision. A delay prevented Nance from rallying community support.
During his deposition, Allen apologized to Nance for the 2010 resignation demand and the resulting acrimony.
“It was handled crappy,” Allen said. “I wish it could have been done more professionally.”
If Nance had only 12 hours to decide between resignation and non-renewal, others knew well in advance the ultimatum was coming.
School board member Melissa Canney initially testified Nance’s termination was not discussed prior to the group’s March 15, 2010 meeting, but later admitted the subject came up during an executive session the previous month.
Three-and-a-half pages of Canney’s recollections involving that executive session are redacted from her deposition.