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Fired North Idaho wrestling coach Pat Whitcomb files lawsuit against the school

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 10, 2019

North Idaho College’s Jamelle Jones jumps into the arms of his coach, Pat Whitcomb, after pinning Walker Clarke of Labette Community College in the 197-pound class Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011, at the Spokane Convention Center. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
North Idaho College’s Jamelle Jones jumps into the arms of his coach, Pat Whitcomb, after pinning Walker Clarke of Labette Community College in the 197-pound class Saturday, Feb. 26, 2011, at the Spokane Convention Center. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
From staff reports

After filing a tort claim in June against North Idaho College for what he believed was an unlawful dismissal, ex-Cardinals wrestling coach Pat Whitcomb has proceeded to file a lawsuit against the Coeur d’Alene school.

Whitcomb, who led the highly successful junior college wrestling program from 1997 to 2019 and won three NJCAA national championships, was fired in January for academic integrity violations, according to NIC.

The tort claim – a necessary first step prior to filing a lawsuit – estimated damages ranging from $50,000 to $100,000. The lawsuit seeks a jury trial.

Whitcomb claims he was fired due to “unlawful discrimination, reputation harm, retaliation and misconduct,” by NIC administration after speaking out against the school on several fronts, including facility access for handicapped student-athletes and after Whitcomb said a female employee was assaulted on campus in 2018.

“Until 2016, he was treated as a valued member of the North Idaho College community, and especially the Athletic Department,” Whitcomb’s attorney, James Piotrowski, wrote in the tort claim. “That changed when Whitcomb incorrectly assumed that NIC administrators shared his commitment to complying with and fulfilling the laws of the state and federal government.”

Hasaan Hawthorne, a double amputee wrestler from Alabama, was a freshman at NIC in 2016. The coach asked the school to accommodate Hawthorne’s special access needs but it refused, the claim states.

Whitcomb said he was called into a meeting Jan. 7 and given a choice: Resign his position and he would be paid through June. If he refused to resign, he would be terminated and receive only two weeks of pay and benefits. He would also have to agree “to not say anything negative about what has been taking place at NIC.”

“I refused to sign, as I had done nothing wrong,” Whitcomb said.

Whitcomb said he began to receive poor evaluations from administration after speaking out.

Williams and NIC head men’s basketball coach Corey Symons were placed on administrative leave this past summer after the men’s basketball program was hit with a series of sanctions by the Northwest Athletic Conference for housing-related extra benefits and administrative oversight in regards to team camps.

The NWAC recently vacated the Cardinals’ back-to-back NWAC Tournament championships, banned the Cardinals from postseason play for three years and issued the NIC athletic department a $30,000 fine. Symons has returned to his coaching duties but will be suspended for the first 10 games of the 2019-2020 season.

Former NIC athletic director Al Williams, 60, announced his retirement four weeks after the sanctions were handed down.

In an email sent to the Spokesman-Review on Wednesday, NIC spokeswoman Laura Rumpler said the school denied any wrongful conduct.

“It’s the responsibility of NIC’s leadership to make the difficult decisions to ensure the employees who serve our students operate with integrity and align with the college’s values of student success and academic excellence,” Rumpler wrote.

“While I (or the college) cannot comment specifically on the possibility of pending litigation, NIC denies any wrongful conduct and is confident that any judicial process will afford clarity and bring the truth and facts to light.”

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