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Wilson v. Northland College

United States District Court, W.D. Wisconsin

January 9, 2018



          STEPHEN L. CROCKER Magistrate Judge

         Plaintiff William Wilson is the former athletic director and women's basketball coach for Northland College, a small private college in Ashland, Wisconsin. Wilson resigned in April 2014 after Northland investigated him for two separate sexual harassment complaints in the spring of 2013 and early 2014.

         This lawsuit arises from a series of radio broadcasts and corresponding on-line stories run in May 2014 by Danielle Kaeding, who was the program director at Northland's college radio station. Wilson alleges that the stories, in which Kaeding interviewed Wilson's accusers and reported on the investigations, breached his Separation Agreement with Northland that restricted what Northland could say about his resignation in response to media inquiries. Wilson also has brought claims for invasion of privacy under Wis.Stat. § 995.50(2)© and negligent supervision of its employee, Kaeding. This court has jurisdiction pursuant to 18 U.S.C. § 1332.

         Northland has moved to dismiss the Amended Complaint pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6). Dkt. 24. I am granting this motion. Wilson cannot state a plausible claim for invasion of privacy because the matters on which Kaeding reported were public, not private facts. His breach of contract claim fails because he has failed to articulate a plausible theory of breach that is tied to the language of the parties' agreement and the contract's plain language does not support his claim. Finally, Wilson's negligent supervision claim fails because the only duty that Northland allegedly breached was the duty to abide by the terms of the contract, which cannot provide the basis for a tort claim.

         The following facts, which I accept as true for purposes of deciding the instant motion, are drawn from the Amended Complaint and documents and news broadcasts that Wilson incorporated by reference.[1]


         I. The Parties

         Plaintiff William Wilson is a resident of the State of Kansas. Wilson previously was employed by defendant Northland College as its Head Women's Basketball Coach and Athletic Director. He resigned in June 2014.

         Defendant Northland College is a private post-secondary college with its principal place of business located in Ashland, Wisconsin. Defendant WRM America Insurance Company is defendant's liability insurer and is located in Uniondale, New York.

         II. Plaintiff's Employment and Separation from Northland

         Wilson began working for Northland in August 2009 as the Head Women's Basketball Coach and Assistant Athletic Director. In 2011, he began jointly serving as the college's Director of Athletics while continuing his role as the head women's basketball coach. In the Fall of 2013, Wilson became Northland's full-time Director of Athletics.

         During Wilson's employment by Northland, the school investigated him twice in response to complaints. In the spring of 2013, Northland investigated a complaint that Wilson had created a hostile work environment by making inappropriate comments to female employees. Northland concluded that there was insufficient evidence to support a finding that Wilson had created a hostile work environment.

         On February 27, 2014, Northland investigated a Title IX complaint alleging that Wilson had engaged in discriminatory treatment of female students on the women's basketball team. On or about April 8, 2014, Northland informed Wilson that, after investigating the complaint “and considering the issues which have arisen in the past about which you have full knowledge, ” Northland had decided that it would be Wilson's final year as Athletic Director.

         On or about April 21, 2014, Wilson and Northland entered into a “Separation Agreement and Release, ” signed by Wilson and Northland's Director of Human Resources, Paul Skoraczewski. Dec. of Robert Jackson, dkt. 26, Exh. A. Paragraph 7 states::

         7. Explanation of Departure and Non-Disparagement.

Northland and Wilson agree that they will jointly issue a statement which may be in the form of a press release indicating that Wilson is leaving his employment with Northland effective June 30, 2014 to pursue other opportunities. This statement must be issued by April 25, 2014 and the parties agree that they will work cooperatively in preparing it. Wilson agrees that he will not orally or in writing disparage Northland in general or any of its officers, faculty members, staff, students, employees or members of the Board of Trustees. To the extent that either party is asked by a media source of any sort to provide an additional explanation, both parties will state that the mutually agreed upon statement speaks for itself.

Id. at ¶7.

         III. Kaeding's News Stories

         Northland College owns and operates a public radio station, WNRC-97.7 FM. Danielle Kaeding was the station director and an employee of defendant. On May 7, 8 and 9, 2014, Kaeding published on-air and online news stories about Wilson that discussed Northland's 2013 and 2014 investigations into Wilson's alleged misconduct. The first on-line article was titled “Northland College conducted two investigations of former athletics director.” The second article was titled “Title IX investigation took place this spring.” The ...

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