from the Lake Superior Court Trial Court Cause No.
45D11-1304-CT-64 The Honorable Diane Kavadias Schneider,
Attorneys for Appellant Richard K. Shoultz Neal Bowling Lewis
Wagner, LLP Indianapolis, Indiana
Attorney for Appellee Mark K. Leeman Logansport, Indiana
OF THE CASE
Appellant-Defendant, School City of Hammond District (the
District), appeals the trial court's entry of judgment
pursuant to a jury verdict in favor of Appellee-Plaintiff,
Chad M. Rueth (Rueth), on his claims of defamation and
The District raises nine issues on appeal, two of which we
find dispositive and which we restate as follows:
(1)Whether there is sufficient evidence to sustain the
jury's verdict against the District for defamation; and
(2)Whether there is sufficient evidence to sustain the
jury's verdict against the District for blacklisting.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
In 2004, Rueth was hired as a middle school history teacher
at Gavit Middle/High School (Gavit), which is a school within
the District in Hammond, Lake County, Indiana. Rueth also
served as the girls' varsity basketball coach for the
high school side of Gavit. In 2007, Rueth was asked to be the
high school's assistant athletic director in addition to
his teaching duties. That same year, the District hired
Michelle Ondas (Principal Ondas) to serve as the assistant
principal of Gavit. For a brief period in 2008, Principal
Ondas acted as interim principal. During that time, she
terminated the athletic director and offered the position to
Rueth. The athletic director position at Gavit was part time
and based on a one-year contract, with a stipend of $9, 182.
Thus, in addition to his athletic director duties, Rueth
continued to teach a few classes.
When Rueth commenced his job as athletic director, he
discovered that the school's athletic fund had been
depleted. As such, he looked for ways to both raise funds and
cut costs without any sacrifice to the student-athletes.
Despite his success in restoring funds to the athletic
account, Rueth had clashes with (then-assistant principal)
Principal Ondas regarding the proper channels of
communication and his conflicts with coaches and other
faculty members. At the end of each academic year, the
then-principal renewed Rueth's contract as athletic
In June of 2011, Principal Ondas was promoted to principal.
Shortly after assuming her new role, Principal Ondas met with
Rueth to outline her expectations of him for the upcoming
school year. As part of this meeting, Principal Ondas
completed an evaluation form, noting several areas in which
Rueth needed to demonstrate improvement, such as his level of
enthusiasm and initiative, his relationship with students and
colleagues, his respect for the channels of authority, and
his effectiveness in communication. Principal Ondas also
summarized goals for Rueth, which consisted of better
promoting the school, communication, and flexibility. A
follow-up meeting was scheduled for December 2011, but this
meeting never occurred. Regardless, at that time, Principal
Ondas contacted the District's central office to inform
the necessary administrators that she wanted to open up the
athletic director position to other candidates at the
expiration of Rueth's contract in June of 2012. Principal
Ondas was advised to wait until the following spring to
inform Rueth of this decision, and this information was not
otherwise made available to the public.
In the fall of 2011, and prior to Principal Ondas'
decision to open up the athletic director job, Rueth
discovered that his high school alma mater, Bishop Noll
Institute (BNI)-a private, Catholic high school-was seeking
candidates for its full-time athletic director position. He
applied. BNI assembled an eight-person hiring committee
(Hiring Committee), which included, in part: Colleen
McCoy-Cejka (Principal McCoy-Cejka), BNI's principal;
Andrew Trost (Trost), a BNI faculty member; Michael Whelan
(Whelan), the vice president of BNI's Board of Limited
Jurisdiction and an alumnus; Karl Repay (Repay), a BNI
alumnus and sports coach; and Nora Kasprzycki (Kasprzycki), a
member of the BNI Board of Limited Jurisdiction. When Rueth
applied for the position, he requested that BNI not contact
anyone at Gavit about his candidacy. Nevertheless, Principal
Ondas eventually learned from her brother-in-law, a member of
BNI's Board of Limited Jurisdiction, that Rueth had
applied for the job at BNI. On one occasion thereafter,
Principal Ondas inquired as to whether Rueth had been chosen
for the position, but because her brother-in-law was not
involved with the hiring process, he had no information to
BNI's Hiring Committee received more than forty resumes,
which it whittled down to four potential candidates,
including Rueth. The first round of interviews was conducted
on March 9, 2012. Although the majority of the Hiring
Committee ranked Rueth within their top two choices for the
position, others were not impressed by his performance.
Ultimately, the Hiring Committee narrowed the field down to
Rueth and one other candidate. According to Whelan,
Rueth's alumnus status "probably got him the second
interview." (Tr. Vol. II, p. 343). The two finalists
were instructed to create a presentation for the Hiring
Committee "as to what [they] saw the future of [BNI]
athletics being, and kind of highlighting the ten[-]year work
that we were going to do to bring [BNI] into [its] 100[-]year
anniversary." (Tr. Vol. I, p. 71). The presentations
were scheduled for April 19, 2012.
In addition to his coaching duties at BNI, Repay was employed
as a firefighter for the City of Hammond. Principal
Ondas' husband, Chris Ondas (Chris), was also a
firefighter. Chris worked and socialized with Repay. At some
point during BNI's hiring process, Repay casually asked
for Chris' opinion of Rueth. Based on his personal
observations of Rueth at various sporting events at Gavit,
Chris stated, "Well, I don't think he's a real
ball of fire." (Tr. Vol. I, p. 198). On a subsequent
occasion, Chris mentioned to Repay that Rueth "was
having to reapply for his position at Gavit." (Tr. Vol.
II, p. 253). According to Repay, he shared this information
with Principal McCoy-Cejka. Principal McCoy-Cejka recalled
that Repay informed her "that [Rueth] was being let go
from his current position." (Tr. Vol. II, p. 295).
Principal McCoy-Cejka indicated that, with the exception of
Trost, she did not discuss Rueth's status as Gavit's
athletic director with the rest of the Hiring Committee.
However, Trost stated that prior to the second interview, the
Hiring Committee had discussions about the fact that Rueth
was no longer Gavit's athletic director.
On the morning of April 19, 2012, the same day that Rueth was
scheduled to make his presentation to the BNI Hiring
Committee, Principal Ondas summoned Rueth to her office.
Rueth "had a strong inclination as to what was going to
happen, " so he used his cell phone to record the
meeting. (Tr. Vol. I, p. 81). Principal Ondas informed Rueth
that she was "going to open up the athletic
director's position" for the following school year
because she "want[ed] to take it in a different
direction." (Tr. Vol. I, p. 78). However, Principal
Ondas told Rueth that he was "more than welcome" to
reapply for the job. (Tr. Vol. I, p. 78). Later that evening,
Rueth made his presentation to the BNI Hiring Committee, but
it did not go "as well as [he] would have liked it to
have gone" as he "was still reeling from what had
happened earlier that day." (Tr. Vol. I, p. 84).
Following his presentation, Rueth asked to speak privately
with Principal McCoy-Cejka and Trost, at which time he
informed them that he had just learned that he "was
being let go from [his] position at Gavit as the athletic
director." (Tr. Vol. I, p. 85).
The following day, on April 20, 2012, Principal McCoy-Cejka
sent the following email to members of the Hiring Committee:
CONFIDENTIAL INFORMATION!!!!!!! He was put on planned action
last summer and was told he did not satisfactorily fulfill
the requirements that the administration was asking of him.
How did we all find out about it [two] weeks ago, and he just
learned about it yesterday? Can't explain that one.
It's all fishy.
I'm afraid too many people in the BNI community became
involved in advising us on choosing him and helping him to
prepare for us. I don't know how a lot of information
becomes public, but it does, and it almost always causes
damage. I don't know how else to try to get to the truth
without causing more damage for him at Gavit.
Exh. 11). Also that day, Whelan emailed the rest of the
Hiring Committee as follows:
I am troubled with trying to put a timeline together on the
[Rueth] [athletic director] situation at Gavit. Part of me
feels that our responsibility was to be confidential and
maybe that was blown. Now, maybe [Rueth] blew that himself
because he admitted he had people helping him so that could
be the situation.
I am confused as to what happened at Gavit and when it
actually happened. There definitely is a difference in
[Rueth's] story and what we are hearing.
It is important to me to understand what really happened.
[Rueth] told [Principal McCoy-Cejka] and [another member of
the Hiring Committee] that he was told that the [athletic
director] job at Gavit would be advertised ...