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Ex-Assistant Sues St. John's for Wrongful Termination

Paul Steinbach

Former St. John’s University assistant men's basketball coach Steve DeMeo filed a federal lawsuit against the university and head coach Mike Anderson on Thursday alleging he was wrongfully terminated because of a health condition as well as for making additional allegations about strife inside the program.

According to the complaint filed by Wigdor LLP and obtained by Sports IllustratedAnderson is accused of firing DeMeo after he disclosed ongoing medical conditions that would require additional accommodations, such as time to attend further appointments and procedures. DeMeo has a heart condition called mitral valve prolapse that required surgery in August 2020 to correct an irregular heartbeat, as well as a mass on his left vocal cord that was removed surgically, SI reported. The surgeries forced DeMeo to spend almost two weeks in the hospital and more time at home recovering. DeMeo also needed procedures following the 2020–21 season.

“There were still procedures that needed to be done. I got the sense that when I told [Anderson] that, things went south,” DeMeo told SI. “He didn’t want to accommodate me, it didn’t sound like.”

The suit also alleges disputes between players and the coaching staff during the 2020-21 season, as well as lax enforcement of COVID-19 safety protocols. Seven scholarship players from the team transferred out of the program following that season.

One days-long scenario illustrates the strife alleged in the suit. Anderson allegedly kicked Isaih Moore off the team during halftime of a March 6 game against the advice of his assistant coaches, including DeMeo. The suit states that Anderson, partially on DeMeo’s urging, allowed Moore to return to the team to avoid a full mutiny, and St. John’s went on to win the game, 81–71, despite Moore being benched for the entire second half.

According to the complaint, Anderson again attempted to kick Moore off the team two days later, and the team refused to practice in response. Moore, who was recruited by DeMeo to St. John’s out of junior college, was reinstated once again, but entered the transfer portal following the season. He has since enrolled at Southern Mississippi.

The filing also states that St. John's decision not to play in the NIT because of the demands of COVID-19 protocols was a “false excuse to protect Mr. Anderson” because “the team simply did not want to play for him anymore.”

During a performance review meeting in May, DeMeo told Anderson that he’d likely need additional time off due to upcoming medical procedures. The suit states that Anderson responded by rolling his eyes and saying, “Well, you have a job to do; you have to do it.” The meeting ended shortly thereafter. DeMeo was then terminated “abruptly” on June 8, according to the complaint as reported by SI.

DeMeo has since been hired as an assistant coach at East Carolina University.

“I’m not a litigious person,” DeMeo told SI. “There has been a lot of pressure on me just to move forward, but I feel like I have to do it and they can’t be allowed to treat people this way.” 

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