College of Charleston has settled a wrongful termination lawsuit with former baseball coach Matt Heath for $350,000, both sides confirmed Friday.
The settlement ends nearly two years of legal wrangling between College of Charleston and Heath over his firing by school athletic director Matt Roberts. Heath, who is an assistant baseball coach at Tennessee-Martin, had three years remaining on his contract that would have paid him $450,000 when he was fired on June 23, 2017.
How the settlement impacts the job status of Roberts and Holbrook is unclear.
Under South Carolina labor laws, any money Heath would have earned through the end of his contract in 2021 would have been subtracted in a settlement. Heath has earned about $100,000 since his firing.
At the heart of the case was Heath’s claim that he was fired by Roberts so that he could hire Chad Holbrook, the former head baseball coach at South Carolina and a close friend of Roberts dating to their days together at North Carolina. Holbrook was hired as the Cougars head baseball coach in July 2017.
Roberts and the school countered that Heath was fired for “just cause” for his alleged physical and verbal abuse of his players that created a “toxic environment” for the two seasons he was the Cougars’ head coach.
Heath has denied the allegations.
Heath filed his wrongful termination lawsuit in July 2017, just days after he was fired.
"The College of Charleston cannot provide a comment until the case is formally dismissed in federal court, which we expect to happen shortly," said Mike Robertson, senior director of media relations at College of Charleston.
The case was initially resolved this past October when both parties “entered into a settlement agreement” of the original lawsuit that would have paid Heath $166,000. However, Heath’s lawyers filed a motion to reopen the case after a forensic expert discovered text messages between Holbrook and his father that seemed to contradict statements made by Roberts.
In March, a federal judge reopened the lawsuit.
U.S. District Judge Richard M. Gergel said the “landscape changed” following the discovery of text messages in the case. He compelled Roberts and Holbrook to hand over electronic devices and emails to a forensic expert.
Steve Abrams, a forensic expert hired by Heath’s lawyers, found text messages on Holbrook’s iPhone between him and his father, former college coach Eddie Holbrook, that appear to contradict sworn testimony.
According to court documents obtained Friday by The Post and Courier, on May 30, 2017, a month before Heath was fired, Holbrook texted his father, “. … Matt (Roberts) wants to do it just waiting to see if they handle buyout of the current coach.”
On June 6, 2017: Holbrook texted his father again, “Me and Matt still talking. We have to be careful in our communication because they still have a coach.”
A week later on June 12, Holbrook suggests that his father contact Gene Roberts, Matt Robert’s father about buying out Heath’s contract. “You need to reconnect with Gene Roberts. I spoke with Gene yesterday. He wants it to happen in a big way as well. Maybe you could tell Gene. We will raise the buyout amount in six months.”
Holbrook resigned as head coach at South Carolina on June 6.
Holbrook said in an affidavit that he texted his father because he didn’t want him to worry about his financial future after he was forced to resign from South Carolina. South Carolina and Holbrook reached a $600,000 settlement when he left the school.
In June 2017, the school launched an investigation into Heath’s conduct as head coach. The school’s investigation uncovered several allegations of misconduct by Heath.
Roberts suspended Heath without pay during the investigation.
After the investigation was completed on June 14, 2017, Roberts notified Heath that he had initiated a termination action for “just cause” — meaning the school would not be required to pay Heath the balance on his contract. Heath had three years remaining on his five-year contract. He made $154,875 in 2017.
Roberts submitted his final recommendation that Heath be terminated for “just cause” on June 23, 2017, to College of Charleston president Glenn McConnell, who has since retired.
Five days later, Heath submitted a written reply to Roberts and McConnell objecting to the findings of the investigation, saying the report was “biased” and that he never had a chance to produce “evidence” or witnesses at a hearing or have a “face-to-face” meeting with McConnell.
The original suit contended that the investigation by Roberts was “designed for one purpose only, to end Heath’s tenure as head coach in bad faith” no matter the cost and not to uncover the veracity of the allegations of misconduct.
Heath, 39, was 59-57-1 in two seasons as the Cougars’ head coach from 2016-2017. The team was 28-31 during Heath’s final season in 2017. It was the Cougars’ first losing season since 2001.