Former Elizabeth High School Head Football Coach Files Lawsuit Charging Wrongful Termination

Jamil Jackson was appointed head coach for the Elizabeth High School football team in July 2016. Credits: Fran Sullivan

ELIZABETH, NJ – Former Elizabeth High School Head Football Coach John C. Quinn has filed a lawsuit charging that the Board of Education violated his First and Fourteenth Amendment rights when they terminated him as head coach of the Elizabeth High School football team, according to court papers.

Quinn charged that his termination was politically motivated and that he “was not a minority race and/or was not connected to the now majority Bollwage faction.” His termination, he claims, resulted in lost wages, damage to his career advancement, and emotional distress. Quinn suffered a mild heart attack that he credits to the stress of losing his job.

Quin has been a coach for 29 years and a head coach for 20 years. He was elected to the New Jersey Football Coach Hall of Fame in 2015 and the NJSA Hall of Fame, as well. He was hired by the Elizabeth Board of Education in 2010 as the assistant athletic director and took over head coaching responsibilities. In 2012, the Elizabeth High School football team was undefeated and ranked number one in the state. Quinn received tenure in 2014.   

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On May 13, 2016, Quinn signed a contract to serve as assistant athletic director and therefore head coach of the football team. According to court papers, Quinn began to hear on June 7 that the position of head coach was open despite his signed contract. He claims this was the only position publicly announced, “causing embarrassment and public humiliation.”

Interviews were conducted July 20, 2016, by Board Commissioners Stan Neron, Maria Carvalho, and Jose Rodriguez, and Athletic Director Judy Finch-Johnson, Harold Kennedy and the board attorney. Quinn claims in his lawsuit that traditionally only the athletic director conducts interviews. Quinn further states in his court papers that both Superintendent Olga Hugelmeyer and Athletic Director Judy Finch-Johnson told him they would recommend him to the board for the head coach's job. 

Superintendent Olga Hugelmeyer has issued a statement disputing Quinn's claim. Said Hugelmeyer, “Statements in recent news reports related to a lawsuit filed by former Elizabeth High School Football Coach John Quinn and the suit itself, inaccurately reflect my recommendation for the position. After posting the coaching vacancy and interviewing multiple candidates, I recommended that Coach Jamil Jackson be retained. As state law requires, no positions in the school district can be filled without my recommendation, including the yearly appointment of athletic team coaches. Any suggestion to the contrary is false.”

Jamil Jackson, the brother of Malik Jackson who ran for the Board of Education in 2015, was named coach on July 21, 2016. The Board cited that they wanted a coach who “had ties to the community,” Quinn, a resident of Washington, New Jersey, claims. Although not currently a resident, Jackson is an Elizabeth native who graduated from the city’s public schools and still has family living in the city.

As a result of losing his coach job, Quinn was told he couldn’t be the assistant athletic coach either, and he had to take a gym teacher position. Currently, he is the athletic director at Plainfield High School, but he says that he become head coach due to the manner of his termination. He has lost $30,000 in wages, according to his lawsuit.      

Board spokesman Pat Politano, released the following statement, “Previous majorities of the Elizabeth Board of Education were found to be politically corrupt. The current majority is cleaning up those old school boards’ numerous failures. That riles some people.

“State law, board policies and contractual obligations require that all positions that pay a stipend be advertised, a recommendation be made by the Superintendent of Schools and the Board of Education to vote to fill the position. This process must be done each year for one year.

“The system is designed that way to enable superintendents and boards of education around the state to meet the needs of the students each year.

“Previous boards of education ignored these requirements. They failed to post positions as the law required. They appointed their favorites and others weren’t able to even apply.

“Mr. Quinn was not fired. He was not retained as the high school football coach. Multiple candidates were interviewed for the position and another chosen. Mr. Quinn maintained his teaching position in the district and if he wished, he could have remained in the district as a teacher. He chose instead to leave.

“That’s his prerogative. Just as it’s the prerogative the school district to choose its football coach each year. Again, the system enables Mr. Quinn to pursue other opportunities in other districts each year, just as he has done.

“There was no political consideration in the retaining of the football coach. The vote of the Board of Education was unanimous. And then-board member Carlos Trujillo who would have identified himself as part of a rival political faction in Elizabeth supported the appointment. The official minutes of the Board of Education reflect Mr. Trujillo’s comments:

“Mr. Trujillo stated that this has been a long time coming and this will help reconcile some of the actions of the previous Boards within the community especially the football community here in Elizabeth, which is very viable and very important.” (Source: Official Board of Education minutes, 7/21/16)

“The current Elizabeth Board of Education majority has reformed numerous aspects of the school system. It has passed budgets in two successive years that had no tax increase yet opened new schools. It has slashed legal fees to one third of what they were under previous board majorities. It has conducted a forensic audit and referred improper contracts and benefits receipts to the proper authorities. It has been completely transparent and open -- conducting two meetings a month so the public can see its process for itself.

“These are significant changes from the practices of previous school board majorities. The current majority proudly will continue its reforms for the benefit of Elizabeth’s taxpayers and students.”


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