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Former Worker Files Lawsuit Against East Tennessee State

January 17, 1996

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (AP) _ A man who says he was fired by East Tennessee State for alerting the NCAA about possible violations is suing the school for $1.5 million.

Keith Tunnell worked in the sports information department from 1984 until he was fired in January 1995 with no reason given. The lawsuit was filed late Tuesday in Johnson City Law Court.

The defendants are East Tennessee State, president Roy Nicks, former athletic director Janice Shelton and Jack Carpenter, legal assistant to Nicks.

Tunnell is seeking $500,000 in compensatory damages and $1 million in punitive damages.

``We don’t discuss litigation in process,″ Fred Sauceman, spokesman for ETSU, said Wednesday.

The NCAA conducted an investigation of 17 possible violations beginning in 1994 and ending last fall. The school also conducted two internal investigations and admitted five minor violations. The NCAA took no action against the school.

The school reprimanded coaches and Shelton, who later resigned as athletic director. Shelton said she had decided to resign before the investigation began. Keener Fry replaced her last year.

In a report on the first investigation, the university said Tunnell reported the possible violations because he was vindictive about being passed over for a promotion.

In the lawsuit, Tunnell said he reported the possible violations after he read the NCAA Manual, as Shelton had instructed him to.

Tunnell says in his lawsuit that the school damaged his present and future earning potential by saying he was vindictive.

The 17 allegations included charges that basketball players were paid during a 1991 trip to Tokyo, that three football players charged in a statutory rape case received free legal advice and various recruiting violations.

Among the violations the school admitted was allowing football coach Mike Cavan to drive three football players charged in a rape case to court and allowing basketball players to accept free photographs of themselves.

Tunnell also says in the lawsuit that in 1992 Shelton asked her to coerce John Cathey, then sports information director, to retire so Tunnell could take his job. Tunnell refused and she told him he would regret that, according to the lawsuit.

Cathey retired in 1994 and Tunnell assumed the duties of sports information director while a replacement was sought.

Tunnell applied for the position, but Annabelle Vaughan was chosen. Tunnell told the NCAA of the possible violations shortly after that.

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