HARRISBURG Penn. Penn State University's former fencing coach sued the school on Thursday, saying it wrongly fired him for "retaliating" against a whistleblower when in fact he was following new rules put in place after the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal.
Emmanuil Kaidanov, who had coached the men's and women's fencing teams at Penn State for 31 years, was fired on Aug. 20 amid hazy circumstances that began six months earlier with a disputed glimpse of something resembling a marijuana cigarette.
In February, 2013, a secretary at the school thought she saw one of Kaidanov's fencers drop what looked like a joint, according to the federal lawsuit filed in Philadelphia seeking his reinstatement and damages, and earlier news reports.
The secretary, who has not been publicly identified, called a new hotline to file an anonymous tip with the university police.
The hotline was one of many new procedures and policies put in place in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky child abuse scandal. Sandusky was convicted in 2012 of using his position as the school's assistant football coach to sexually molest 10 boys.
The secretary's allegation was never proven: Kane Gladnick, the accused fencer, passed a drug test. What the secretary took for a joint was in fact a bit of rolled-up white athletic tape she had just removed from her knee, Gladnick said.
Kaidanov confronted the secretary, asking why she had gone to police first before speaking with him, the lawsuit says. His lawsuit contends that he was required to do this as part of the agreement the school signed with the National Collegiate Athletic Association after the Sandusky scandal to investigate wrongful accusations against athletes by university employees.
The university instead viewed this as an act of retaliation of the sort prohibited by a school policy, according to the lawsuit, and fired Kaidanov.
Lisa M. Powers, director of public information for Penn State, said the university had not seen the lawsuit and would not comment on pending litigation.
"This is a question of right and wrong," Alvin de Levie, Kaidanov's lawyer, said in an interview. "The mistake made by Penn State in terminating Coach Kaidanov can be remedied by restoring him to the position of head coach, a position he held with honor and world recognition."
Kaidanov emigrated from the Soviet Union in 1979 and led the Penn State's fencing teams to 795 victories against only 77 defeats during his three decades there.
(Writing by Jonathan Allen)