WHISTLEBLOWERS -- San Diego State University strength coach David Ohton’s almost six-year-old whistleblower retaliation suit against the university has been reinstated by the Court of Appeal a second time and appears to be finally headed for trial, reports Brent Schrotenboer for the San Diego Union-Tribune.
In their unanimous decision Tuesday, three appellate justices also
suggested that the alleged retaliation Ohton suffered at the hands SDSU
colleagues and administrators in 2003 may constitute criminal conduct.
Ohton, an SDSU employee since 1986, claims that he was removed as the football team’s strength coach and had his hours restricted after he cooperated with a California State University audit that found mismanagement in the athletic department. After investigating Ohton’s whistleblower complaint, CSU said in a letter of determination that Ohton was retaliated against but dismissed it as “minor” retaliation. The university also said his removal as the football team’s strength coach was for other operational reasons.
“The Legislature designated such retaliation as a criminal offense,”
the justices decision said. “Therefore, when CSU makes a finding of
retaliation, to satisfactorily address the whistleblower complaint, its
determination letter must state whether the matter was referred to
criminal prosecution, and if not why not. Anything short of this
defeats the protections created by the statute. Here, because of CSU’s
silence on the issue of punishment and discipline, CSU did not
satisfactorily address Ohton’s complaint.”
The CSU could appeal Tuesday’s decision to the California Supreme
Court. Christopher Cato, an attorney for the CSU, declined comment.
This marks the second time Ohton’s case has been reinstated on his
appeal. The same three justices reinstated the case in 2007, only to
see it thrown out again by Superior Court Judge Charles Hayes in 2008
on procedural grounds. Ohton appealed again, leading to Tuesday’s
The justices also awarded Ohton’s costs on appeal.
“One man with integrity and a determination to do what is right for
the student athletes at San Diego State University has endured criminal
retaliation, intimidation and fraudulent conduct committed at the
highest levels of the CSU and SDSU administrations,” Ohton’s attorney
Dennis Schoville said. “This unanimous decision by three of our
brightest, most experienced justices will now allow coach David Ohton
to have his day in court. The illegal and fraudulent conduct by
university administrators at the highest level will finally be exposed.”
Tuesday’s decision also gives Ohton the upper hand in possible
Ohton filed suit in February 2004 under the
California Whistleblower Protection Act. He still works at SDSU as a
strength coach for baseball and other sports. The audit’s findings led to the ouster of three top administrators
and an equipment manager, including former Athletic Director Rick Bay. The CSU had determined Ohton didn’t merit protection under the
whistleblower protection law because it said that allegations he passed
along about then-head football coach Tom Craft were not made in good
Ohton’s attorneys alleged that SDSU Vice President Sally Roush
swept the allegations about Craft’s excessive drinking under the rug to
avoid having to fire Craft. As a result, Ohton’s attorneys said Ohton
was retaliated against despite a booster who confirmed the allegations
in an interview with Roush.
CSU attorneys have denied a cover-up. “With respect to (CSU’s) determination that Ohton did not act in good faith in reporting Craft’s alleged drunkenness while at an out-of-state game and that his statement is therefore not a protected disclosure, we conclude, based upon the administrative record before the trial court, CSU applied an incorrect definition of good faith, and therefore the result reached was contrary to law,” the justices wrote in Tuesday’s decision.