Last week, an arbitrator ruled that former University of Connecticut head basketball coach Kevin Ollie was wrongfully terminated from his job in 2018 and awarded over $11 million in damages. The case is interesting for a number of reasons. First, the arbitrator who heard the case tragically passed away after the hearing, and new arbitrator was selected to decide the case on the record. Second, Ollie’s individual employment agreement (“IEA”) provided that he was entitled to all the rights enjoyed by university staff through the university’s contract with its chapter of the American Association of University Professors (“CBA”). Naturally, the CBA provided a grievance and arbitration procedure.
Significantly, the IEA authorized termination for just cause based on “a violation” of NCAA rules, while the CBA required a termination for just cause be based on “serious non-compliance” with NCAA rules. Prior to the hearing on the merits, the original arbitrator had ruled that based on this conflict, the CBA prevailed. The deciding arbitrator therefore applied a more traditional just cause standard and found, among other things, that the university had violated Ollie’s due process rights by prematurely terminating him prior to the conclusion of the NCAA investigation in 2019, which itself was woefully inadequate. The arbitrator further found the university’s own investigation was similarly lacking. Notably, the arbitrator also concluded the university’s decision to terminate was arbitrary and capricious, and replete with incidents of disparate treatment of prior coaches. The $11 million in damages was based on the terms of the IEA.