Letter to the Editor: Case against UT dismissed, but outcome not reportedWritten by Administrator | | email@example.com
TO THE EDITOR,
I might begin this letter by asking “Do you remember this?”
It was the summer of 2007 and The Blade was giving its “Tom Noe Treatment” to the University of Toledo with a barrage of daily and wildly overemphasized stories about misdeeds in the athletic department brought to its attention by an “undercover reporter,” disgruntled employee Suzette Fronk, who was claiming dismissal and harassment as a “whistleblower” for bringing all kinds of egregious practices to the attention of one of America’s great newspapers.
The flurry of Blade stories and dozens of column inches, billed by the paper as “exposés” of practices within the athletic department deemed almost criminal and highly unethical, sullied the good names of team coaches, doctors and faculty athletic representatives, especially that of director Michael O’Brien, whose “secret e-mail” to a Blade executive was supposedly a critical piece of evidence of wrongdoing.
Because I had been employed by UT for nearly 30 years as an athletic department representative and was thoroughly familiar with many of the practices being excoriated by The Blade, I sought out Toledo Free Press as the avenue to let Toledoans know that its daily newspaper was making much ado about nothing out of the ordinary to anyone remotely familiar with intercollegiate athletics. My efforts to defend Mr. O’Brien and his coaches were the subject of a July 22, 2007 cover story, in which I was dubbed “Mad Max.”
Well, three years later, “Mad Max” is writing again, this time to let the public know that those I defended have been completely vindicated by the Ohio Court of Claims in a suit brought by The Blade’s “undercover reporter,” Ms. Fronk, and to ask why, as of Sept. 2, one of America’s great newspapers has reported nary a word about the outcome of the case.
In a 15-page decision published Aug. 20, 2010, by Judge Joseph T. Clark, Ms. Fronk’s case for liability against the University of Toledo was rejected and judgment rendered in favor of the defendant, UT, with all court costs assessed against the plaintiff, Ms. Fronk.
The Blade’s heroine in the case, Ms. Fronk, testified that she was wrongfully discharged and that her privacy had been violated by UT publishing false statements about her, which she alleged were highly offensive and caused her to be viewed in a false light. However, the court found that Ms. Fronk “has failed to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that she was, in fact, discharged.” The court also found that Ms. Fronk had “failed to prove that the actions taken by UT amount[ed] to discipline.”
Citing numerous examples of case law, the court found that Ms. Fronk’s charges “did not constitute an actionable claim for violation of public policy.”
“This court is not inclined to create or recognize a cause of action for harassment in violation of public policy based upon these facts,” reads the decision.
Regarding Ms. Fronk’s charges that The Blade’s publishing of Mr. O’Brien’s “secret e-mail” to Blade executive Joe Zerbey had cast her in a false light, the court found that phrases used in the e-mail did not rise to the level of being highly offensive to a reasonable person. The court also found that Ms. Fronk’s testimony regarding the e-mail correspondence was “disingenuous inasmuch as plaintiff admitted that she initiated contact with newspaper reporters and provided them the details of her employment dispute.”
And as for Ms. Fronk’s argument that Mr. O’Brien’s e-mail comments about her were defamatory, the court cited Ohio case law to find that “the two comments made by O’Brien, even if they could be considered highly offensive to plaintiff, are clearly O’Brien’s opinions and not factual statements.”
In conclusion, the court found that “plaintiff (Ms. Fronk) has failed to prove that she was discharged or disciplined in violation of a public policy or that defendant (UT) invaded her privacy by placing her in a false light. Accordingly, judgment shall be rendered in favor of defendant. With respect to the court’s decision, defendant’s motion to dismiss is denied as moot.”
Thanks to Toledo Free Press for allowing me to bring public attention to how The Blade continues to manipulate news in this metropolitan area by overemphasizing the negative and then by underreporting (or in this case not reporting at all) news that leaves egg on its face.
Max E. Gerber, Sylvania
Max E. Gerber worked as the University of Toledo sports information director for nearly 30 years, is a member of the UT Varsity “T” Hall of Fame and is the man who organized the Dancing Rockettes — the first collegiate dance team in the country. The UT Glass Bowl media center is named in his honor.