Minnesota Mother must pay coach $50,000 for Defamation in Dispute Over Daughter’s Playing Time

Jul 29, 2022

By John T. Wendt

As reported previously in Sports Litigation Alert, Woodbury (Minnesota) High School Basketball Coach Nathan McGuire sued a parent for defamation, which arose from a disagreement over playing time.[1]  McGuire had coached Julie Bowlin’s daughter when the daughter was in seventh grade at the Academy of Holy Angels.  Bowlin’s daughter followed McGuire when he went to coach at Woodbury.   However, Bowlin became upset because McGuire wouldn’t guarantee her daughter varsity playing time.[2]  Bowlin and other parents complained to administrators about the coach’s conduct and players’ playing time and roles on the team.[3]  Bowlin and another parent even filed maltreatment-of-minors reports against McGuire with the Minnesota Department of Education.  The maltreatment reports were found to be without merit.[4] 

But the school did place McGuire on administrative leave and ultimately decided not to renew his coaching contract.  And yet Bowlin continued to attack McGuire and admitted that when McGuire was suspended from coaching on January 8, 2014, she sent him a text that said, “Too bad you didn’t coach tonight.”[5]  She also admitted that in August of 2014 she falsely “told another parent that McGuire could lose his teaching job because he ‘was recently put in jail’ for his treatment of girls’ basketball players.”[6]

McGuire sued Bowlin and others for defamation and civil conspiracy.  Finding that McGuire was a public official and following New York Times v. Sullivan and similar cases, the District Court granted the defendants’ motion for summary judgment finding that McGuire was a public official and that there was no evidence that Bowlin or the other defendants knowingly or recklessly made a false report.  The Court of Appeals in an unpublished opinion affirmed the District Court’s decision.[7]  However, the Minnesota Supreme Court reversed and remanded the case finding that, “Although McGuire was employed by the school district, his coaching duties are ancillary to core functions of government; put simply, basketball is not fundamental to democracy.”[8]

Last week and nearly nine years after this all started, a settlement was reached between the parties.  Bowlin agreed to pay $50,000 to settle the coach’s defamation lawsuit.  She also admitted she made numerous false accusations against McGuire.[9]  The settlement included a three page “To Whom It May Concern” letter where she admitted her role in McGuire’s “wrongful termination.”   Bowlin admitted that “she wrongly told the Woodbury High School Athletic Club Boosters in November 2013 that McGuire had been ‘terminated’ from Holy Angels and that parents had brought complaints against him.”[10]  Bowlin also acknowledged that she falsely accused McGuire “of bullying, pushing, harassment, manipulation, aggression and inappropriate touching at Woodbury and Holy Angels.”[11]

But the damage has already been done.  McGuire said that despite a successful coaching career he has applied for approximately 50 coaching jobs but had heard back from only five.  He also said that a coach at another school in the district wanted to hire McGuire as an assistant, but the district refused.  As McGuire said, “I was told I could never coach in the district again…This lady that was in my district for two months basically destroyed everything.”[12] 

Donald Chance Mark Jr., McGuire’s attorney said that Bowlin is using a life insurance policy to pay McGuire a total of $50,000 with a series of $300 payments and “if she fails to pay on time or otherwise violates the settlement agreement, that judgment becomes $350,000.”[13]  One of the reasons why the case has dragged on was because Bowlin is in her third bankruptcy proceeding.  Mark noted that the court found that Bowlin’s statements were made “with malice.”[14]  This is important because under Section 523(a)(6) of the Bankruptcy Code debts based on liability “for willful and malicious injury by the debtor to another entity or to property of another entity” are specifically excluded from the scope of the bankruptcy discharge.[15]

In conclusion McGuire said, “It’s been hard for me to swallow, being a member of this district for 23 years and having one person torpedo everything…Hopefully, this will prevent other coaches from [experiencing] similar situations.”[16]  Yet, McGuire also seems to be optimistic, “We’re hoping with this letter, with this settlement…that maybe I can work again with the youth in the district that I teach.”[17]

John T. Wendt is Professor Emeritus, Ethics and Business Law, University of St. Thomas.  He also serves on the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Lausanne)

[1] John Wendt, Minnesota High School Basketball Coach Sues Parents for Defamation — McGuire v. Bowlin, (2020), https://sportslitigationalert.com/minnesota-high-school-basketball-coach-sues-parents-for-defamation-mcguire-v-bowlin/ (last visited Jul 17, 2022).

[2] Rochelle Olson, Former Woodbury High girls’ basketball coach wins defamation lawsuit against parent, (2022), https://www.startribune.com/former-woodbury-high-girls-basketball-coach-wins-defamation-lawsuit-against-parent/600189609/ (last visited Jul 12, 2022).

[3] McGuire v. Bowlin, A18-0167, Minn. Ct. App., (Unpublished Opinion), (2018), https://www.casemine.com/judgement/us/5c0a497b342cca45a84e0ead (last visited Jul 17, 2022).

[4] McGuire v. Bowlin, 932 N.W.2d 819 (2019).

[5] Olson, supra note 2.

[6] Id.

[7] McGuire v. Bowlin, A18-0167, Minn. Ct. App., (Unpublished Opinion), supra note 3.

[8] McGuire v. Bowlin, supra note 4.

[9] Josh Verges, Player’s mom to pay $50,000 to settle Woodbury HS basketball coach’s defamation lawsuit – Twin Cities, (2022), https://www.twincities.com/2022/07/12/players-mom-to-pay-50000-to-settle-woodbury-hs-basketball-coachs-defamation-lawsuit/ (last visited Jul 12, 2022).

[10] Olson, supra note 2.

[11] Id.

[12] Verges, supra note 9.

[13] Id.

[14] Olson, supra note 2.

[15] United States Bankruptcy Code, Section 523 – Exceptions to discharge – 2020 United States Bankruptcy Code, United States Bankruptcy Code (2020), https://usbankruptcycode.org/chapter-5-creditors-the-debtor-and-the-estate/subchapter-ii-debtors-duties-and-benefits/section-523-exceptions-to-discharge/ (last visited Jul 18, 2022).

[16] Olson, supra note 2.

[17] Verges, supra note 9.

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