North Tonawanda School Superintendent Gregory J. Woytila said this week he intends to ask the Board of Education to terminate Jeff Alger, the school district's athletic director, at the board's Dec. 5 meeting.
Neither Woytila nor Alger would reveal what prompted Woytila to pursue Alger's ouster.
A lawyer for the family of a female student athlete said the district is investigating alleged roughhousing of a nonsexual nature between Alger and the student.
Alger's attorney, Stephen J. Jones, confirmed there was such an incident, but he called it a "pretext" for the real reason Woytila wants to fire Alger, which Jones contended is a medical condition that caused Alger to take some time off work earlier this year.
Jones said if the School Board fires Alger Wednesday, he will sue the district, charging "unlawful discrimination."
"The superintendent is attempting to railroad him with a bunch of baseless allegations," Jones said Thursday.
There were plenty of witnesses to the physical incident between Alger and the girl; it occurred in front of her teammates, both lawyers said.
"This was goofing around that is typically found between teammates," said Christopher J. O'Brien, the family's lawyer. "It was that type of physical jostling, I would describe it. There was no intent to harm anyone. There was no intent to injure anyone. This was done in front of many people. This was not done in seclusion. This was not surreptitious."
"The student came up and tried to tackle Mr. Alger from behind, and he spun around and in the process of doing that, it's kind of akin to a wrestling move, she gently went to the ground," Jones said. "It's just absolutely preposterous that they are insinuating that there was something inappropriate here. This was a spur-of-the-moment thing where a student was horsing around. That's all it was."
The girl's mother declined to be interviewed Wednesday and referred a reporter to O'Brien, a family friend. He said the parents are not planning a lawsuit against Alger or the school district.
"They sought legal counsel just to be certain they are doing the right thing, and I endorsed the way they are handling it, viewing it as not being worthy of any type of legal action," O'Brien said.
"They believe that the athletic director did nothing wrong and that a simple incident is being blown way out of proportion," O'Brien added.
"The student's parents have no issue with Mr. Alger. None," Jones said. "This is a trumped-up, ridiculous charge against Mr. Alger that's clearly a pretext because the superintendent does not want to work with Mr. Alger anymore."
Alger was placed on paid administrative leave in September, Woytila confirmed Tuesday. He did not respond to a call seeking a response to Jones' statements.
The News obtained a letter Woytila sent to Alger Tuesday, which told him that a vote on his dismissal that was planned for the Nov. 20 Board of Education meeting has been rescheduled for Dec. 5.
"If my recommendation is approved by the Board, your services as a probationary administrator in the position of Director of Athletics in the North Tonawanda City School District will be discontinued, and your last day of employment will be January 5, 2019," the letter said.
"There's some more investigation going on," Woytila said Tuesday when asked why the Nov. 20 meeting was canceled.
Jones would not disclose details about Alger's health, but Jones said the condition would not prevent Alger from continuing to work as athletic director.
"But the superintendent believes it would, and that's the crux of this," Jones said. He said the condition cropped up after Alger was hired three years ago.
Woytila said Alger is a probationary employee and would remain so until he completes four years with the district.
Jones acknowledged that under state law, a probationary employee, unlike a tenured employee, has no job protection.
Alger, who is in his third year at North Tonawanda, declined to speak on the record when contacted Thursday.