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Oakland University Soccer Coach Files Federal Lawsuit after Sudden Termination

By Nadia El-Yaouti | Posted on May 8, 2024

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Former Oakland University soccer coach Eric Pogue is suing the Michigan institution, claiming that he was unlawfully fired because of his “debilitating” depression. Pogue filed his federal lawsuit earlier this month in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan Southern Division and names the university and a senior associate athletic director, Ashley Stone, as a defendant.

The former university coach also says that he was barred from speaking about issues of mental health with his athletes and that the work environment stigmatized men who are living with mental health struggles —resulting in a sexist work environment.

In announcing the lawsuit, Pogue’s lawyer, Shereef Akeel, shared with reporters, “We have found that there is a stigma in men’s athletic programs regarding mental challenges," adding, "Schools have to do a better job in meeting these challenges."

Pogue led an impressive career as a soccer coach with Oakland University before he was fired in February. During the 15 seasons that he served as a head coach, he led the team to three Summit League Championships, four Horizon League Championships, and four NCAA tournament appearances. Alongside these wins, he was named Coach of the Year six times, including the year before he was fired.

Papers filed with the court highlight his decorated career, explaining, "Coach Pogue’s accomplishments, especially during the 2023 season, were significant because it demonstrated Coach Pogue was not just qualified to do his job, but was the best at his job in 2023 out of all the head coaches in the (Horizon League) during a time when he was dealing with the debilitating disability of depression."

Pogue says his “debilitating disability of depression” was the determining factor in his career termination with the university, considering he had never been involved in a scandal or had a losing record —two common reasons why coaches might get fired. Pogue shares that he began struggling with his mental health after the death of his mother. Despite his struggles, the school’s administration kept him from speaking out about mental health issues, and the university left out his depression diagnosis when they issued a press release that announced his leave of absence.

The lawsuit alleges “Because of Coach Pogue’s disability, and his efforts to speak out about the challenges of mental illness — which had a significant stigma, especially in male athletics — (Oakland University) terminated his contract as the Head Coach of OUMS."

The university hit back with a statement against the claim that Pogue was fired because of his mental health struggles. Their statement reads in part, “With an unprecedented number of student-athletes calling for a change in leadership in the Men’s Soccer Program, and a persistent unwillingness by Coach Pogue to provide hands-on mentorship and training that OU student-athletes expect and deserve, OU concluded that Coach Pogue lacked the ability to lead the program and a change had to be made."

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) outlines the rights and protection of employees along with the responsibilities employers have towards workers. The law requires employers to take appropriate steps before terminating a worker who is facing mental health struggles. Employers cannot simply terminate a worker just because they have a mental health diagnosis. Instead, they are required to provide reasonable accommodations that would allow a worker to be able to complete the job duties and function of their role.

Along with the ADA, there are a range of other laws including the Mental Health Parity and Addiction Equity Act (MHPAEA) and the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) that provide protections for workers struggling with their mental health.

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