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Wisconsin Law Journal (Milwaukee, WI)
A former baseball coach for the University of Wisconsin-Oskhosh is suing the school for allegedly retaliating against him after he accused officials of mishandling money earmarked for stadium renovations.
Tom Lechnir coached at the university for 25 years. His contract was terminated in May 2013.
In his lawsuit, filed Wednesday in federal court, Lechnir claims he was denied due process and was the subject of retaliation for speaking his mind about the school taking on debt to build the baseball stadium.
Alumni Stadium was under construction from 2003 to 2007 for a cost of $726,073, according to documents from the UW-Oshkosh Foundation Inc. The work overlapped with the university's construction of a new sports complex, though the projects were separate. C.R. Meyer and Sons Co., Oshkosh, was the general contractor on the baseball stadium.
According to the lawsuit, Lechnir raised $419,393 in cash contributions and another $248,871 in in-kind donations to build Alumni Stadium. But the university claimed in 2010 that the project, which was usable by 2007, had put it more than $250,000 in the red.
"This came as a surprise to Lechnir as this was the first time he was informed of an alleged 'debt,'" according to the lawsuit. "UW-Oshkosh provided to Lechnir a breakdown of the alleged debt that listed a number of invoices allegedly paid to contractors, but the document did not specify what work each contractor allegedly provided or the date of the alleged work. "
Lechnir thus alleges in the suit that "the only reasonable explanation … is that the UW-Oshkosh apparently co-mingled baseball stadium funds with sports complex funds. "
The former coach claims university officials conspired against him. He is suing to get back pay and benefits, as well as damages and attorney's fees.
Lechnir's attorney, Jason Wied, did not immediately return a phone call Thursday.
According to the suit, university officials in 2010 set parameters for Lechnir to raise money to pay off the debt. And while he, according to the suit, raised $161,851.19 between 2009 and 2013, his relationship with officials, particularly then-Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Petra Roter, soured. According to the suit, "Roter told Lechnir at one point that if he did not find a way to pay back 'her money,' she would have him fired. "
From there, the relationship deteriorated, and his performance evaluations suffered, according to the suit.
According to an Aug. 19, 2013, letter to Lechnir, attributed to former Chancellor Richard Wells, that outlines the decision not to issue the coach a new contract, "there is evidence of your unwillingness or inability to work cooperatively and effectively with your colleagues in the Division in addressing challenges, overcoming obstacles, and pursuing opportunities for progress in intercollegiate athletics and the broader campus community. "
In his suit, Lechnir accused Roter, who is now the university's interim chancellor, as well as Wells and athletics Director Darryl Sims, of conspiring and retaliating against him, alternately saying that he failed at his fundraising goals and that he was let go for other reasons.
The UW's Board of Regents also is named as a defendant.
Following his termination, Lechnir's dismissal was upheld by a review committee, as well as Circuit Judge Barbara Key. He is now appealing Key's decision.
UW-Oshkosh spokesman Alex Hummel declined to comment, but did send a statement the university made after Key's ruling. According to the statement, Key's ruling "also affirmed the integrity of the UW Oshkosh Foundation's detailed, thoroughly audited financial records for the Alumni Stadium project. "