William P. Gibbons, who served as the women’s basketball coach at the College of the Holy Cross for 34 years, has sued the school, its president and other officials in Worcester Superior Court for breach of contract, defamation, age discrimination, infliction of emotional distress, and other wrongdoings in connection with his termination earlier this year.
Gibbons, now 60, was fired on March 28. with Brendan Sullivan, interim director of athletics at the school, issuing the following statement at the time: “The record, the performance of the team in the past few seasons has not been where we think it needs to be in terms of being competitive throughout the Patriot League and providing the opportunity for our team, which we think is really talented.” The program had had four straight sub-.500 seasons, from 2014-18, before rebounding with a winning record last year.
Also factoring into the school’s decision was an internal squabble between Gibbons and one of his female assistant coaches, who allegedly made a substitution without Gibbons’ knowledge during a game, leading to a verbal, and very public, confrontation between the two. Reports were filed between the two, leading to an internal investigation.
Not surprisingly, Gibbons alleges that the investigation was biased. “In bad faith, Holy Cross eschewed the word of a deeply loyal and exemplary 38-year employee, for the fabricated allegations of the disloyal, manipulative assistants who were scheming to disparage Coach Gibbons for their own benefit,” he alleged.
The lawsuit further charges that Gibbons was prevented from exercising his contractual right to appeal the suspension to the school’s senior vice president and that Holy Cross violated the terms of his employment agreement “in order to create the false impression of prompt remedial action to counter-balance widespread concern on campus about Holy Cross’ lax response to student sexual assault allegations.” Furthermore, the investigation and suspension “intentionally and recklessly created a false impression to the public that Coach Gibbons had been found guilty of inappropriate sexual behavior or improper behavior toward a student.
“This false impression has irreparably damaged Coach Gibbons’ sterling personal reputation and has caused him to sustain emotional, mental and physical damages, for which he has required medical care.”
The age discrimination claim rests of the contention that Gibbons was unjustly and unfairly terminated because of his age and replaced by someone substantially younger. This allowed the school to “pay a reduced salary and cure a budget shortfall,” alleged the plaintiff.
“We believe William Gibbons was suspended and then terminated in breach of his contract,” said Gibbons’ attorney, Stephen G. Abraham. “We believe they were unfair in dealing with Coach Gibbons, after being there for 38 years, throughout the process and they would not allow him to give his side of the story and they portrayed the suspension and termination in a manner that put him in a very bad light.”