Judge Signs Off on Dismissal of LSU-Chavis Litigation

Oct 27, 2017

The two sides in the litigation over a coach’s departure from one school to another have reached a settlement after a Louisiana judge signed a joint motion to dismiss.
John Chavis was the defensive coordinator at Louisiana State University (LSU) when he decided to leave that position for a similar position at Texas A&M University. LSU sued Chavis for breach of contract.
Last winter, a state court judge in Louisiana had sided with LSU, finding that its claim should be heard by a jury.
The crux of the case was whether the three-year contract that Chavis signed in 2011, which stipulated he would owe LSU a $400,000 buyout if he left the school before Jan. 31, 2015, was void because of the alterations the university later made to the contract in 2013.
The origins of the litigation stemmed from a letter Chavis received on Jan. 2, 2015 from LSU athletic director Joe Alleva, demanding payment, pursuant to the buyout clause. Chavis sued, claiming “Alleva’s letter demanding that he pay liquidated damages prior to his actual resignation constitutes a termination by LSU of Chavis’ employment.”
LSU subsequently countersued, arguing Chavis owed the buyout for breaching his contract as well as other damages, including the cost of recruiting, hiring and relocating Chavis’ replacement and for the harm Chavis’ early termination caused LSU’s reputation and its effect on coach/player retention.
“LSU regrets that what is ordinarily a simple matter must be resolved in litigation, but it will vigorously defend the contractual and constitutional rights of the university,” the school said in a statement.
Chavis’ lawsuit, filed in Texas, was dismissed in 2015.
LSU’s lawsuit continued. Defending his actions, Chavis argued that “material alterations were made (to his contract) by some person or persons at LSU for the benefit of LSU and to the detriment of Chavis. Chavis was not informed of the alterations after they were made by LSU nor did he agree to ratify the alterations after they were made by LSU. … After Dec. 31, 2011, Chavis became an employee ‘at will’ and thus no longer subject to any specific terms or conditions.”
The court did not buy the argument, which pleased LSU’s legal representatives.
Lawyer Harry “Skip” Philips Jr., who represents the LSU Board of Supervision, argued that Chavis’ three-year contract and the amended contract contained the same $500,000 base salary as well as the same start and end dates. While he conceded the “wording” of the buyout had changed, the “substance” of it had not.
“It didn’t change the substance of the obligations,” Philips reportedly argued. “It’s not fundamentally different as Mr. Chavis claims. I think the intent was clear.”
By way of background, Alleva reportedly sought, in December 2014, to institute the “Les Miles clause” into the contracts of each of head football coach Les Miles’ assistants. The clause allegedly said that if Miles was terminated as head coach, the school could also terminate the contracts of all of Miles’ assistants.
This led Chavis to pursue an opportunity to become the defensive coordinator at A&M. On Jan. 1, 2015, he reportedly flew with A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin by private jet to College Station. Chavis told the Houston Chronicle at the time: “I’m excited to play with a great offense, and certainly looking forward to helping the defense get better. We get that situation done, and certainly you’re looking at a time, in my mind and in my vision, we will compete for championships.” Allegedly, Chavis also began recruiting on A&M’s behalf prior to his end date with LSU. Hearing this, Alleva sent the aforementioned letter to Chavis, seeking payment of the buyout.
The latest ruling in the case came in April, when the First Circuit Court of Appeals denied Chavis’ motion to dismiss the case.


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