Coach Loses Argument that AD Lacked Power To Accept Resignation

Jan 2, 2009

A Connecticut state court judge has denied a coach’s request for injunctive relief, which would have provided him with a hearing on whether he resigned or was terminated from his post.
The central issues in the case were whether the athletic director had the authority to accept the coach’s expressed intention to resign, and the whether he should be allowed to rescind the resignation.
Plaintiff Howard Benedict began teaching English and coaching boy’s varsity lacrosse at New Canaan High School in 1973. He thus became the first and only lacrosse coach the school has had until the 2008 season, producing eight state and seven conference championships along the way.
The origins of the litigation extend to January 14, 2008, when Benedict sent an e-mail to Jay Egan the school’s athletic director, which stated, in its entirety:
“Dear Jay: I am not continuing as lacrosse coach at New Canaan High School. I am telling you now so that you can finish the scheduling, staffing and next step communications. The autonomy and leadership role that I require and have enjoyed have been undermined. The lack of staff in the building and in the program remains a burden to all. Sincerely yours, Howard Benedict.”
On the next day, the AD responded, also via e-mail:
“Howard, thank you for the timely notification of your decision not to continue as the Boy’s lacrosse coach at New Canaan. I appreciate how difficult a decision this must have been for you. I am sure you realize that your many years of service to the New Canaan Lacrosse community have been greatly appreciated by all the players and families you have touched Best of Luck. Jay.”
Prior to communicating what he believed to be Benedict’s intent to school administrators, Egan asked him if he had “a preference with respect to how you would prefer me to represent your decision publicly. I guess what I am asking is do you want me to say you have decided to retire or that you have resigned. Please let me know your preference. Thanks, Jay.”
It was at this point that Benedict expressed a change of heart about resigning. While acknowledging that the coach and the AD had had “as strained relationship,” the court deduced that the “’I am not continuing’ e-mail of January 14, 2008 suffices as a resignation.”
The court then turned to the plaintiff’s argument that the athletic director did not have the “clear authority within him to accept the resignation.” Examining the AD’s job description, the court refuted the plaintiff’s argument.
“Egan is arguably given the larger power (to hire) such that his power to merely accept a resignation ought be seen as implicit. Even if the hiring power were not his, that should not be deemed to compel a holding that he could not accept a resignation.”
Turning to the plaintiff’s second argument that he had rescinded his resignation, the court was unmoved. “The court regretfully must reject the attempted rescission as legally binding the employer,” it wrote.
“It is saddening, in having to decide this matter, to have witnessed the slow, unhappy and clouded denouement. It is hoped that the laudatory comments herein about Mr. Benedict are some consolation to one whose deserved adulation became obscured under e-mails and legal papers.”
Howard Benedict v. New Canaan Board of Education et al.; Super. Ct. Conn., D. of Stamford-Norwalk; FSTCV084013437S; 2008 Conn. Super. LEXIS 2662; 10/22/08


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