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Former varsity basketball coach sues district, parents for money -- and he wants his job back

A longtime kindergarten teacher at a Cottage Grove elementary school and former varsity head coach at Woodbury High School has sued School District 833 for monetary damages and a return to his coaching position.

In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in December 2014, Nathan Craig McGuire, 39, named School District 833, as well as the parents of a player he previously coached, in a lawsuit that claims his employer, the South Washington County School District, violated his constitutional rights.

Mick Waldspurger, an attorney for District 833, said he planned to file a motion to dismiss soon. The case was filed in federal court, but whether it belongs there at all is "another question," Waldspurger added.

Julie A. and Thomas M. Bowlin complained about their child’s playing time prior to the completion of tryouts, then continued a barrage of complaints, going to state, league and district officials and triggering the lawsuit.

The player, unnamed in the lawsuit, played varsity for McGuire as a seventh grader at Holy Angels. She transferred to Woodbury in 2013 and expressed interest in playing on McGuire’s team as a ninth grader.

Parent complaints

Before a game was played in the 2013-14 season, a meeting was held with the girl, her parents, the high school principal, the athletic director, two assistant coaches and McGuire during which the parents complained about playing time, the lawsuit alleges. The coaching staff hadn’t decided who had made the team, who would start, and how playing time would be handled. Still, the parents wanted an update about their child’s status on the team.

McGuire said the Bowlins talked to an influential parent in the program, leaving the other parent with the impression that they were trying to get the head coach fired. The Minnesota State High School League referred the Bowlins’ complaints back to Woodbury High School. The parents demanded high school administration remove McGuire as head coach, then got the Minnesota Department of Education involved.

The player attended one more practice. Within a week, the player had transferred, without competing for Woodbury.

McGuire was placed on administrative leave for the final two months of the 2013-14 girls basketball season, as complaints were investigated.

The last game McGuire coached Woodbury was on Jan. 3, 2014, at East Ridge High School, and by formal action by the school board that March, his contract was not renewed.

In January 2014, the Bowlins filed a complaint with the state Department of Education alleging that McGuire was responsible for emotional or mental maltreatment of a player. In the lawsuit, McGuire denies the Bowlins’ claim. False statements were made by the Bowlins, who intended to negatively impact the former coach’s teaching or coaching licensure with the state of Minnesota, according to the lawsuit.

McGuire addressed the school board in May 2014, providing 19 statements of support from players and parents and unsuccessfully arguing for the board to reconsider his coaching contract renewal, which he said was unjustified.

During district and state investigations, McGuire was unaware of the reason for his leave, according to the lawsuit. The leave was not disciplinary, he and the Bulletin were told.

McGuire did not receive a hearing prior to being placed on leave, and he was neither informed of nor asked to respond to any allegation against him -- acts that he claims are violations of the U.S. Constitution.

The investigation was initiated by the Bowlins’ complaints about him, the lawsuit alleges, and the primary case to remove McGuire as coach was built through disputed statements made during the investigator’s interview with the Bowlins. All other players were interviewed as the district allegedly built a case to remove McGuire as head coach.

When McGuire was interviewed by state and district investigators, the questions were bizarre and based on fiction about his coaching and personal life, the lawsuit alleges.

The investigation report -- even a redacted version, or a summary -- was not provided to McGuire upon request, a violation of state law, according to the lawsuit.

McGuire received two letters from Linda Plante, then the principal at Woodbury High School -- one informing him that his leave would continue through the 2013-14 season, the other documenting his contract nonrenewal as “based on the results of a recent investigation,” not solely based on parent complaints.

The letters said the former coach “failed to meet the administration’s expectations,” that the administration “would like Woodbury High School girls basketball to move in a different direction,” and that McGuire’s “leadership style, coaching philosophy, conduct, and coaching methods differ from the leadership style, coaching philosophy, conduct and coaching methods that are desired by administration.”

McGuire’s lawsuit argues to the contrary, that his nonrenewal as coach was solely based on parent complaints.

Lawsuit allegations

McGuire is suing District 833 for alleged violations of the Minnesota Data Practices Act and for allegedly violating his constitutional rights, under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

He alleges that the school board’s decision was not based on the facts of the investigation.

McGuire seeks monetary damages from the Bowlins, who allegedly made defamatory statements about their daughter’s former coach to officials from Woodbury High School, the school district, the district’s investigator in the complaint, the Minnesota High School League, as well as to individuals. He accuses the Bowlins of knowingly and recklessly making a false statement to the state Department of Education under the Maltreatment of Minors Reporting Act.

The statements by the Bowlins led to his failure to get other coaching jobs.

Once he applied for and finished as the preferred candidate for a head coaching job, but was never hired because of the Bowlins’ pending complaint with the Department of Education, the lawsuit said.

The district refused to provide public data to McGuire, allegedly violating state law and injuring its employee “by eviscerating his ability to apply for and obtain future coaching positions,” the lawsuit said.

McGuire’s role

The former coach seek injunctive relief reinstating him to his position as varsity head coach of girls basketball at Woodbury High School.

In March 2014, the District 833 School Board formally declined to renew McGuire’s contract.

McGuire inherited a 10-18 team in 2012, but went 19-10 in his first season as coach, leading the Royals to the section championship.

The Royals went 1-17 following McGuire being placed on leave and finished 6-21 overall in 2013-14.

He joined the Woodbury High School program in September 2012 after two years head coaching girls basketball at the Academy of Holy Angels in Richfield. Prior to that, McGuire head coached at Henry Sibley High School and Minnesota Business Academy, a charter school in St. Paul.

McGuire has worked at Armstrong Elementary since 1998, and he was also hired as a junior high track-and-field coach in 1999. The nonrenewal didn’t affect his teaching status.

Scott Wente contributed to this report.