A former Wayland High School athletic director has filed a whistle-blower lawsuit alleging that the nonrenewal of his contract was retaliation for his complaining about unequal treatment of boys and girls sports teams.
In addition, Stephen Cass said town officials ruined his reputation by charging him with stealing a school laptop — he was arrested at home in 2015 — then publishing his mug shot on social media outlets, according to the suit, filed this month in Middlesex Superior Court.
Last year, Cass was found not guilty of larceny by a Framingham District Court judge. A related charge of receiving stolen property was dismissed, according to court records.
Cass’s lawsuit names as defendants the Town of Wayland, the town’s police and school departments, Superintendent Paul Stein, Assistant Superintendent Brad Crozier, high school principal Allyson Mizoguchi, and a Wayland police Detective Sergeant James Berger.
“As a direct and proximate result of the Defendants’ actions, Mr. Cass’s professional reputation has been utterly ruined to the point where he cannot find gainful employment in his area of experience and training,” the May 8 complaint states.
Cass had worked in education and athletic administration for about 20 years. He holds a bachelor’s degree in sociology and economics from Yale University and a master’s degree in business administration from Ohio State University.
Since the termination of his job as athletic director and wellness instructor at Wayland High, Cass has applied for more than 100 school positions. He has been told by national recruiters that they will not be able to help him because of the arrest and press coverage, according to the suit.
Ben Hincks, Cass’s attorney, said that Cass has found part-time employment but has not been able to resume his career. Cass also sold his Wayland home and moved to another community.
“It’s a small town, and it was very difficult for him to be there,” Hincks said.
Stein declined to comment. “I have been instructed very clearly by counsel not to comment on this case,” he said.
Police Chief Robert Irving, who is retiring in September, read from a statement that said his department had not been named in a lawsuit in 15 years and would “vigorously defend itself against any unfounded allegations” against it or its employees.
Crozier, Mizoguchi, and Berger could not be reached for comment.
Lea Anderson, chairwoman of Wayland’s selectmen, and Town Administrator Nan Balmer declined to comment.
In his complaint, Cass said that shortly after he started work in Wayland in 2013, he was asked to cut the high school’s athletics budget. As he reviewed the program’s finances, he said, he discovered that some coaches had failed to properly handle and account for money from fund-raising activities. And he says there was “excessive, unnecessary spending.”
He said that inappropriate fund-raising by various high school boys teams had played a large role in creating an imbalance between boys and girls sports at the school, violating Wayland School Committee policies designed to maintain equity.
He contended that imbalance was a violation of Title IX, a law that bars sex discrimination in educational programs that receive federal money.
In court papers, Cass said that on multiple occasions he informed school administrators of his concerns. He said they typically encouraged Cass to build better ties with coaches rather than to address the problems he said existed.
Cass said that budget changes intended to ensure compliance with Title IX “spawned severe hostility” toward him from some coaches.
Cass said that in May 2015 he told Stein that issues of gender inequity went unchecked because administrators failed to support Cass’s efforts.
Stein told Cass three days later that his contract would not be renewed, according to the complaint.
Cass’s lawsuit contends he was terminated from his position in retaliation for his “whistleblowing activities.”
Stein, the superintendent, is retiring in June after about six years in Wayland; he is being replaced by Arthur Unobskey, formerly Gloucester’s assistant superintendent.
After his job in Wayland ended, Cass alleged, town officials continued to retaliate against him when local police obtained a search warrant and arrested him at his home in October 2015, on charges that he had stolen a five-year-old laptop computer owned by the school system.
Cass said a school employee had told him to take the machine, and that Berger, a Wayland police officer, failed to properly investigate the case.
“The prosecution was malicious and without merit,” Cass’s suit states.
In 2016, a review of Wayland High School’s athletics program — it was conducted by Northeastern University’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society — concluded that interviews with students, staff, and community members “yielded no evidence” that providing an equal experience for boy and girl athletes is perceived as a priority.
One senior girl at Wayland High School told the study’s interviewers there was “zero equality or care” for girls sports programs.
“I am sad that I have to leave this year and will never have felt like I mattered as an athlete to this school,” she said, according to the report.
The report recommended that the school form a student-athlete advisory committee, review core values for the athletics program, improve the training for coaches, and take other steps.
The MetroWest Daily News has previously reported that Cass filed a lawsuit against his former employer, Episcopal School of Jacksonville, Fla., over allegations of defamation and violation of that state’s whistle-blower law in 2012.
According to electronic records available from the Duval County clerk of courts in Florida, the parties in that case entered mediation and the matter was settled in November of 2016.
John Hilliard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.