The head football coach of a Catholic high school in Vallejo sued the Sacramento Diocese on Wednesday claiming he was unfairly fired after he reported sexual abuse in a hazing scandal.
Chris Cerbone, who had been the coach at St. Vincent-St. Patrick High School for six months, said he was told by freshmen players that varsity players were involved in serious hazing and sexual misconduct.
Specifics in the lawsuit refer to the varsity players "punking" the freshmen, which included assaulting them with their genitalia.
In December, Cerbone reported that abuse to Child Protective Services and filed a report with the school's principal. He and some other coaches were put on leave, and then he was fired at the end of January. The school is part of the Sacramento Archdiocese, and the lawsuit was filed in Sacramento County.
“I reported the abuse because I wanted to stop it and to protect the kids from any further harm,” Cerbone said in a statement sent to NBC Bay Area on Wednesday. “It was a complete shock to be fired for doing the right thing.”
His San Francisco attorney, David Lowe, added: “This is a classic case of whistle blower retaliation. The Diocese should be ashamed of its role in firing a teacher for reporting sexual abuse.”
Kevin Eckery, spokesman for the Diocese, said he had not yet seen the lawsuit, but overall, the Diocese stood by its actions.
The suit claims defamation, wrongful termination and retaliation and seeks lost wages, emotional distress and punitive damages.
As a result of the hazing, five varsity football players were also expelled.
In a previous interview, Principal Mary Ellen Ryan said in a statement that she "dismissed the head coach, who had ultimate responsibility for supervising the students during the time the inappropriate behavior took place."
At the time, Cerbone told NBC Bay Area that he was very angry: "The minute I found out about it I raised the red flag and brought it to their attention to save the kids from more misery and I get fired."
For related stories:
- Expelled Student-Athletes Could Face Harsher Penalties
- Football Coach Fire, Players Expelled for Hazing