Coach Files Suit After Firing
7 News Denver, Alan Gathright
A two-time Colorado State High School Coach of the Year is suing Mullen High School for firing him in 2010, saying he was a victim of disability and age discrimination, according to a lawsuit obtained by the CALL7 Investigators.
In a lawsuit filed in Denver federal court Monday, Porter Cutrell said the Christian Brothers, who own Mullen, violated his rights under the federal Americans With Disabilities Act and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act when his contract was terminated in April 2010. He also accused school officials of retaliating against him after he filed a discrimination complaint with the U.S. Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.
Mullen officials did not respond to 7NEWS' requests for comment Thursday.
The lawsuit came on a day Mullen students were protesting the firing of another popular and successful coach, Dave Logan, who led the Panthers football team to four state championships. In the lawsuit, Cutrell highlighted his achievements as a basketball coach and a teacher of physical education, science, health and computer graphics.
As a coach, he led the boys' varsity basketball team to the State Championship tournament every year of his tenure, twice guiding the team to the Division 5 State Boys' Basketball Championship.The lawsuit said Cutrell never had a negative review during his 14 years at the school, was praised by superiors and promoted to head of the Physical Education Department in 2007.
He said that he was one of the few Mullen teachers with either a master's degree or a state teaching license. Cutrell said that his trouble began when he had surgery on a torn shoulder rotator cuff on April 14, 2010, after new Mullen Chief Executive Officer and President Robert Regan admonished employees at his initial staff meeting to help cut school expenses by only using health insurance benefits for emergencies, according to the lawsuit.
On April 30, 2010, Cutrell was called to Regan's office and told on that his annual contract would not be renewed for 2011. Regan started the meeting by inquiring about Cutrell's shoulder and the status and timing of his recovery, the lawsuit said.
"Regan further asked Cutrell whether he was present at the initial staff meeting wherein Regan asked that the staff not use their medical insurance," the lawsuit said. Cutrell replied that he had already scheduled the surgery before the meeting.
Also during that first staff meeting, Regan invoked a "new vision" without offering details. But Cutrell, who was 48 at the time, claimed the vision was to eliminate employees over age 40 and replace them with younger staff, the lawsuit said.
In spring 2010, Cutrell said he was among 24 employees fired at Mullen. Twenty of the 24 were over age 40 and almost all were replaced by younger people, the lawsuit said.
"Porter Cutrell was one of Mullen's best full-time teachers and was a state champion coach," his attorney, Jordan Factor told 7NEWS. "As we allege in this complaint, he was fired for no other apparent reason, other than his age and for daring to use his health insurance after Mullen told its employees to not use their health insurance.
"The lawsuit states that it is a violation of federal law to fire, discipline or discriminate against employees for using benefits to which they are entitled.After Cutrell's surgery, his shoulder was immobilized and he was unable to move his right arm to 12 weeks, during which it was stabilized by a large brace.
The lawsuit said this constituted a disability, because it "significantly impaired a major life activity."
During his recovery, he had to sleep sitting up in a chair, could not lift anything over a few pounds and he required assistance to bathe, dress or drive.Cutrell's shoulder disability made it "nearly impossible, and also unsafe," for him to drive students on a school bus to a bowling alley as part of his PE teacher duties, the lawsuit said.
But when Cutrell asked for the "reasonable accommodation" of a substitute driver to get the students to and from the bowling class, the lawsuit said, "Mullen rejected or ignored his request."
So, Cutrell drove the school bus with one arm.After Cutrell filed the discrimination complaint following his contract termination, the lawsuit said school officials retaliated against him by saying he could not run his annual basketball camp at the school or attend the camp.
Mullen also denied him work as a substitute teacher during the remainder of his contract, the lawsuit said.When Cutrell's daughter graduated from Mullen with honors in 2010, Cutrell was selected to be a "Line Leader," an honor given to teachers who are allowed to sit on the stage during the graduation ceremony, the lawsuit said.
But after Mullen was served with his discrimination claim notice, Cutrell was told school administrators had changed their minds about him sitting on the stage.
"At the graduation ceremony, it was only because his daughter refused to accept her diploma from Regan that Cutrell was able to come to the stage in order to take his daughter's diploma from Regan and hand it to his daughter," the lawsuit said.