Tom Lechnir was a successful baseball coach at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh for 26 years. He compiled a 728-292-1 record during his time as a coach at the school and led the team to the 1994 Division III championship. Despite an impressive record and a history of positive performance evaluations, Lechnir lost his job after the university alleged that he was responsible for and didn’t repay debt on a new baseball stadium.
Lechnir filed a lawsuit against his former employer over the allegations, and that lawsuit is now making its way to federal court.
According to Lechnir, there was no debt as the university says, and he has accused the university of diverting funds that were intended for the baseball stadium without telling donors. Lechnir says those funds were instead used for the Oshkosh Sports Complex, home to the football, softball, soccer and track teams.
Lechnir questioned and then challenged the university’s accounting practices and following his complaints, the athletic director Darryl Sims gave Lechnir his first substandard performance evaluation in his 31 years of coaching.
In 2012, Chancellor Richard Wells told Lechnir that his contract would not be renewed for 2013.
Lechnir was allowed an ad hoc peer review, but those who were part of the committee performing the review deferred to Wells. Wells reaffirmed his earlier decision.
In March 2014, a judge upheld the nonrenewal of Lechnir’s contract, saying university officials followed proper procedures and had grounds not to renew the coach’s contract. The state court of appeals affirmed this decision earlier this year.
U.S. District Court Judge William C. Griesbach ruled that Lechnir could take his case to federal court based on a First Amendment retaliation claim.
One of Lechnir’s attorneys, William McKinley, thinks that Lechnir will have a better chance of getting justice with this opportunity. “We believe the evidence will show there was significant animosity premised on the fact that Tom had established relationships with significant donors and was unwilling to fundraise with those donors for projects Tom had nothing to do with. There was zero financial impropriety on Tom’s part.”
In federal court, Lechnir will be able to request emails or documents related to the incident, something he was not able to do previously. McKinley believes that the case “very well could wind up in front of a jury.”
Lechnir is now the baseball academy director at Woodside Sports in Wisconsin Dells. He commutes there from Oshkosh. He says that this situation has taken him away from his family.
Despite the high costs of legal fees for the case, Lechnir has “zero interest” in settling out of court.
A scheduling conference will take place on July 29.