Ex-coach Carlos Briggs appeals dismissal of whistle-blower suit

The Carlos Briggs saga at the University of Detroit Mercy is not yet finished.

Having changed attorneys, the former assistant basketball coach earlier this month appealed a federal district court decision dismissing his lawsuit against the university and other parties.

Briggs originally filed suit on Jan. 29, 2013, in Wayne County Circuit Court, claiming he was defamed and then fired for blowing the whistle on an affair between former Athletic Director Keri Gaither and assistant coach Derek Thomas.

Gaither and Thomas, both married to others, resigned when their relationship became public – a day before Briggs was fired.

Briggs’ case was moved to federal court, and earlier this year U.S. District Judge Robert H. Cleland granted motions for summary judgment by UDM, Gaither and media consultant Mort Meisner.

In his ruling, Judge Cleland said that Briggs “argues what amounts to ‘where there’s smoke there’s fire.’ That argument turns out to be a fallacious one, however… Fire can indeed cause smoke, but sometimes there is nothing more than smoke, or it is from a different source. Here, the relationship between Gaither … and Thomas may well have given rise to an unprofessional and unpleasant environment, but it does not give rise to a recognized cause of action.”

Cleland dismissed the case.

But Briggs isn’t done fighting.

Attorney Arnold E. Reed is now representing Briggs, and he has asked the Sixth Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals to overturn the lower court decision.

According to court documents, Reed argues in his appeal that Cleland erred. He has asked to be allowed to argue in person.

“Oral argument would provide an opportunity to address the factual niceties of the case as well as legal aspects of novel issues…,” Reed wrote.

Briggs’ original six-count complaint and demand for jury trial sought monetary damages based on six legal claims: violation of Michigan’s Whistleblower Protection Act, retaliation in violation of Michigan public policy, breach of contract, defamation, “bystander” sex harassment and discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and retaliation in violation of title VII.

Briggs said he learned of the relationship on a team trip to Spain in 2009.

He also charged that head men’s coach Ray McCallum failed to take action about the affair though Briggs alerted him repeatedly after players and parents complained about an improper relationship taking place at hotels where the team was staying while on the road.

The university contends that Briggs, an at-will employee, was fired for threatening Meisner and for interfering when women’s basketball coach Autumn Rademacher was being considered for a job at Eastern Michigan University.

UDM officials declined to comment for this story, and attorney Reed could not be reached.