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Ohio State paid almost $1.6M to fight band director lawsuits

Lisa Cornwell, Associated Press

Ohio State University's legal bills for defending the firing of its former marching band director after accusations he allowed a "sexualized culture" in the band totaled almost $1.6 million.

Financial documents recently released by Ohio State show its legal costs to fight former band director Jonathan Waters' lawsuits over his firing totaled more than $1.4 million for his suit in federal court. The costs tied to a separate lawsuit in state court were more than $174,000.

The university fired Waters in July 2014 after an internal investigation determined he ignored the band's culture of raunchy, profane and suggestive traditions and mishandled sexual discrimination allegations. Waters denied that finding and said he was working to improve the culture. He lost both of his lawsuits.

His suit in U.S. District Court in Columbus alleged he was a victim of gender discrimination and the university disciplined him differently than a female employee facing similar allegations. His case in the Ohio Court of Claims accused OSU of defaming him. The university denied Waters' claims. Both courts found against Waters.

Ohio State said in a statement released with the financial documents that OSU, as the prevailing party in the lawsuits, could have sought to recover its costs from Waters.

"However, upon his voluntary dismissal of his lawsuits in December 2016, Ohio State agreed not to pursue those costs," the university said.

Also in that agreement, Waters agreed not to file any "charges, claims, suits, complaints or grievances" against the university.

Waters' agreement to drop his lawsuits left in place the prior court rulings that found against him.

At the time he was fired, Waters' halftime shows were considered revolutionary. They included iPad-designed morphing and dancing scenes that landed the already celebrated band in an Apple commercial.

Waters said Wednesday that it was a struggle to come up with the money to pay his legal fees of more than $500,000.

"We were very fortunate to have a lot of public support," he said, adding that he also had to use retirement and family funds.

"But we just felt we had to stand up for what was right and what was true," he said.

Waters said it was unfortunate the university "spent money paying attorneys rather than addressing core issues and having an open and honest dialogue."

Ohio State spokesman Chris Davey said Wednesday that the university would make no additional comment.

Waters is now director of bands at Heidelberg University in Tiffin, about 95 miles (153 kilometers) north of Columbus.