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Vincennes did not breach contract with men’s basketball coach

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The Indiana Court of Appeals concluded Tuesday that summary judgment should have been granted in favor of Vincennes University on a former basketball coach’s lawsuit alleging breach of contract after the university did not renew his contract for the following year.

In Vincennes University by the Board of Trustees of Vincennes v. Daniel E. Sparks, 42A01-1206-PL-248, Daniel Sparks, who was the school’s athletic director, head men’s basketball coach and a professor in 2003, was stripped of his tenure after he and an assistant coach falsified a basketball recruit’s application. Sparks agreed to forfeit his tenure in lieu of facing disciplinary proceedings. He was subject to a zero-tolerance policy after that and signed to a one-year contract. The school decided not to renew his contract for the 2005-2006 academic year, but that decision was not based on a violation of the zero-tolerance policy.

Sparks sued, with both the university and he filing for summary judgment, and later a directed verdict. The breach of contract claim went before a jury, which ruled in favor of Sparks.

“We conclude that the Agreement unambiguously requires Sparks to forfeit his tenure and that he therefore had no right to continued employment. Even if we were to find the Agreement to be ambiguous, the designated evidence supports the University’s interpretation, which also better harmonizes the provisions of the Agreement. Therefore, we conclude that summary judgment should have been granted for the University,” Judge Terry Crone wrote.

The agreement required Sparks to forfeit his tenure but never made a reference to a term of employment. His own testimony showed that he understood that giving up his tenure meant giving up his job security.

“The University argues, and we agree, that the provisions regarding tenure and the zero tolerance policy can be harmonized by interpreting the Agreement to mean that Sparks had a year-to-year contract with the University and could also be fired during the academic year for violation of the zero tolerance policy,” Crone wrote.

 

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