BOZEMAN – Former Montana State football coach Mike Kramer’s defamation lawsuit against the university will be considered by a jury in August after a judge denied another request by MSU attorneys to dismiss the case.
Kramer filed a lawsuit in December 2007 alleging MSU fired him the previous May under the “without cause” part of his contract and then proceeded to give reasons for his firing, including the legal troubles of former players.
District Judge Kathy Seeley dismissed the coach’s claims that the university breached its contract. She did, however, rule earlier this year that a jury should consider Kramer’s claims that the school slandered, libeled and portrayed him in a false light, damaging his reputation and his ability to land another coaching job.
MSU attorneys were trying a second time to get the case dismissed, but Seeley denied the request Wednesday.
Kramer’s attorney, Triel Culver, told the judge in December that university leaders “blackballed” the coach with comments made to the media following his dismissal. The comments included a news release from MSU Athletic Director Peter Fields that said, “Looking at the football program as a whole and in light of the recent criminal activities of former student-athletes connected to it, I believe there is something broken with our football program.”
It also said then-President Geoff Gamble and MSU Vice President of Student Affairs Allen Yarnell “concurred that the cumulative effects of the program’s troubles pointed to a ‘crisis in leadership’ in Bobcat football.”
Defense attorney Cal Stacey has argued that statements made by MSU following Kramer’s dismissal did not rise to the level of being libelous or slanderous because they were either based on facts or were the opinions of those making them. He also said Gamble and Fields were acting in their official capacities and “within the scope of their employment” when they issued the news release.
But Seeley’s ruling this week said she was not convinced the school officials were obligated to issue a news release or to make or endorse any negative statements about the coach’s performance.
“Justifying or even explaining the reasons for the termination in any public forum was not” a mandated responsibility for them, she said.