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‘Whistleblower’ Suit Against Houston Settled

March 27, 1996

HOUSTON (AP) _ A former University of Houston assistant football coach has settled a ``whistleblower″ lawsuit he filed against the school.

The amount of Monday’s agreement was not revealed, but a source told the Houston Chronicle that Steve Staggs recently rejected a $650,000 offer. University spokeswoman Fran Howell said Tuesday no details would be released until all of the parties signed the deal.

The settlement came shortly before the case was to go to trial. The judge announced it as 100 prospective jurors awaited the start of proceedings.

Staggs, 36, was an assistant under former head coach John Jenkins. He has been a construction worker in the Texarkana area since he left Houston.

The university said it is ``satisfied″ with the settlement and is ``ready to move past this matter, which stems from incidents that took place several years ago.″

Staggs was hired as a $40,000-a-year receiver coach on May 1, 1992. He said that almost immediately he began seeing NCAA rules violations.

He also said that during his first month on the job he complained to Jenkins about what he viewed as summer camp violations.

Staggs said he then complained for months to numerous school officials about training practices exceeding the NCAA’s 20-hours-per-week limit, off-season practices ordered by coaches, deceptive recruiting practices, a practice conducted during a lightning storm and sex scenes spliced into game and training tapes to amuse players.

The lawsuit said he took his concerns to then-university president James Pickering on April 12, 1993, and directly to the NCAA three days later.

The NCAA’s Committee on Infractions cited the school for six secondary rules violations but did not place it on probation.

Legal documents from the university portrayed Staggs as a conspiracy-chasing malcontent who would not back down.

The university said Staggs was fired for insubordination, poor work habits, unexplained absences, failure to follow staff responsibilities and ``his complicity in, but not his reporting of, violations of NCAA rules and bylaws.″

The settlement did not answer Staggs’ contention that he was subjected to retaliation for not ``toeing the line,″ as one document phrased it, and for refusing to end his complaints.

The ``retaliation″ instances that his suit cited were meant to bolster his claims to legal relief under the Texas ``whistleblower″ statute.

The lawsuit alleged his job was in jeopardy if he continued the complaints, that Jenkins himself asked him to resign, that an assistant coach made a threatening telephone call to him and that he was accused falsely of sexually harassing a woman and of having a homosexual relationship.

Staggs’ attorney, D. Douglas Brothers of Austin, would not discuss the subject.

Staggs was fired Aug. 11, 1993, and filed the lawsuit about a month later.

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