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Ohio State Denies Ex-band Director’s Defamation Claims

COLUMBUS, Ohio ― The reputation of Ohio State University’s fired band director was not harmed by the university or anyone acting on its behalf, the school said in a court filing asking a judge to dismiss the director’s $1 million defamation lawsuit.

The university denied it escalated negative publicity about former band leader Jonathan Waters through press releases and counters it was Waters who engaged in a national public relations campaign through multiple media appearances and comments, Ohio State said in a court filing Wednesday.

Waters’ complaint in the Ohio Court of Claims last month alleged the school has damaged his reputation so much he can’t find work despite previously being among the most respected directors in the field.

The university fired Waters last July, after an internal investigation concluded he ignored a “sexualized culture” inside the celebrated band.

Waters wants $1 million in damages for his allegations of violation of privacy, defamation and slander. He’s separately pursuing a federal civil rights claim of gender discrimination.

Waters’ iPad-designed halftime shows were considered revolutionary. They’ve garnered hundreds of thousands of YouTube views for what fans know as The Best Damn Band in the Land.

Despite that reputation, Waters says he’s applied for more than 40 high school and college marching band jobs since he was fired and gotten no offers.

The university acknowledged Waters’ reputation in its filing, but added, “the Band continues to receive accolades after Mr. Waters’ termination.”

Waters’ suit also cites a newly surfaced letter from School of Music Director Richard Blatti, who wrote to Waters’ parents last fall saying Ohio State’s Board of Trustees ignored his input opposing the firing and that he threatened to resign over the decision.

Since then, Blatti has said he lacked knowledge about the decision when he wrote the letter and now understands the reasoning behind the decision, the university said.

Waters also says he was placed in a false light “highly offensive to any reasonable person” by the school’s release of the so-called “Glaros report,” named for Assistant Vice President for Compliance Operations and Investigations Chris Glaros.

One of the people Waters holds responsible is Ohio State President Michael Drake, who fired Waters. Waters says the president publicly cited the report as immediate justification for Waters’ firing. Yet Drake described its scope days later in a private audiotaped meeting with the band leader as focused mostly on the years before Waters’ promotion to director in 2012, Waters said.

The university denied that Drake’s statement “told an entirely different story” about the firing.

The president “proactively reached out to the student leaders of the newly constituted 2014 Band to inspire them and convey that the current student members of the Band need not be defined by the culture and actions of the past,” the university said.

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