Craig Sponsky, former director of athletics for Oxbridge Academy, sued the private high school Tuesday, alleging he was scapegoated amid negative publicity regarding a toxic work environment and overemphasis on athletics.
In a five-page complaint filed in Palm Beach County circuit court, Sponsky alleged that his “flawless” nationwide reputation was damaged, his earning power reduced and that he suffered “mental and emotional anguish, hurt feelings, loss of income and benefits and loss of wage-earning capacity.”
To read the latest headlines from West Palm Beach, go to: palmbeachpost.com/westpalm
The suit, filed by lawyer Jack Scarola, asked for unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. The amount demanded will depend partly on how hard it is to find work and the nature of that work, the attorney said.
The school’s decision to fire CEO Robert Parsons and not renew the contracts of Sponsky and head football coach Doug Socha followed an internal investigation prompted by reporting in the Palm Beach Post.
The Post reported that a number of current and former staff members believed the school overemphasized athletics, football in particular, at the expense of academics. Since Sponsky and Socha left the school has cut other athletic expenses, eliminating its sailing and rowing teams.
“We are saddened that Craig Sponsky has resorted to litigation after a decision was made not to renew his contract. Oxbridge denies his erroneous allegations and will vigorously defend its actions,” Oxbridge spokeswoman Carey O’Donnell said Wednesday.
The school, which charges tuition of about $31,500, was founded by Palm Beach billionaire Bill Koch, an energy industrialist who remains its chairman.
In a May 26 letter to Sponsky, Executive Vice President and Board Member David Rosow wrote the decision not to renew Sponsky’s contract was “based upon your actions and conduct as an employee and as Director of Athletics, including but not limited to material deficiencies in program emphasis, compliance with School policies, and compliance with Florida athletic guidelines against impermissible benefits to athletes.”
Sponsky countered in his suit that he did nothing wrong and only followed the board’s directives. The defamation occurred when that termination letter was distributed “to others within the Oxbridge community,” Scarola said.
“The termination letter blamed Craig for contributing to the toxic environment and for having violated FHSAA (Florida High School Athletic Association) rules and regulations for having responsibility for improper allocation of benefits to athletes,” Scarola said. “Termination of his employment relationship was based upon claims of Craig’s responsibility for those things over which he had no control or responsibility.”
If the school had conducted “a reasonable internal review of the facts,” it would have found Sponsky blameless, the attorney said. “In truth, Craig Sponsky had done nothing wrong and the defendants knew he had done nothing wrong.”
Have a West Palm Beach news tip? Contact Staff Writer Tony Doris at firstname.lastname@example.org or 561-820-4703.