Mike Kramer settles lawsuit
HELENA, Mont. -- Former Montana State football coach Mike Kramer said Wednesday he settled a lawsuit with the university partly because it was interfering with his desire to return to coaching.
"It is time to put this chapter behind me and move forward," Kramer said in a written statement announcing the $240,000 settlement.
"With this settlement, I am vindicated; yet, it is with very mixed emotions," Kramer said. "I firmly believe -- and am confident we would have proven at trial -- that Montana State's athletic director, president and others libeled and slandered me, intentionally defamed my character and unfairly tarnished my reputation in an attempt to cover up many of their own decisions."
Kramer filed the lawsuit in December 2007, arguing that school officials fired him under the "without cause" clause in his contract and then issued a press release and made public comments about the firing without giving him a chance to appeal the decision.
A breach of contract allegation was one of several claims that were dismissed earlier. A trial had been set to begin Monday in Helena to deal with the remaining issues of whether MSU libeled, slandered or portrayed Kramer in a false light after his May 2007 firing. The settlement dealt with those allegations.
"We're happy to have that case concluded," said Leslie Taylor, MSU legal counsel. "We believe the settlement is in the best interest of the university and all parties."
Montana State athletic director Peter Fields said the program is moving forward and focusing on its current student-athletes.
One of Kramer's attorneys, Cliff Edwards, said the parties agreed to settle after a judge dismissed the university's requests to have the case thrown out.
"I believe they settled because they knew once a jury saw all the evidence, the results would be very damaging," Edwards said. "Coach Kramer was made a scapegoat. Certain university officials seemed intent on using falsehoods and distortions to destroy this good man's career and reputation."
MSU attorney Cal Stacey said the settlement was primarily an economic and business decision.
"Before they filed this lawsuit, Coach Kramer and his attorneys were demanding millions of dollars to settle, and as the case progressed and the court ruled that MSU had every legal right to terminate his one-year contract, the only remaining issue was whether or not a press release, in some fashion, defamed Coach Kramer, causing him damages," Stacey said.
"We are adamant in our position that the press release at issue did not defame Coach Kramer," he said.
Kramer said he planned to donate a portion of the settlement to six youth football programs in Montana cities.
Kramer was fired just days after former Bobcat wide receiver Rick Gatewood was arrested for selling drugs, making him the fifth former MSU football player arrested within a year's time. Gatewood later acknowledged using athletic scholarship money to traffic cocaine.
"Looking at the football program as a whole and in light of the recent criminal activities of former student-athletes connected to it, I believe there is something broken with our football program and we need to take decisive steps to fix it," Fields said in the May 18, 2007, press release announcing Kramer's firing after seven seasons.
Kramer's lawsuit also alleged that school officials continued to make such statements in the following weeks, damaging his reputation.
In response to public reaction to Kramer's firing, then-MSU president Geoff Gamble told the Bozeman Daily Chronicle that he supported Field's decision to fire Kramer, noting the school had recently lost three football scholarships for failing to meet NCAA academic progress requirements.
"We have this whole suite of criminal activities, but there are academic issues and compliance issues. They all are in the realm of leadership issues," Gamble said.
Kramer is currently the football operations assistant at Washington State University.
Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press