Former Utah boys' basketball coach wants job back
Courts • Bob Lyman claims school declined to reinstate him after he took medical leave.
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The former varsity head basketball coach at West High School has launched a quest in federal court to get his job back.

Bob Lyman filed a lawsuit Thursday in U.S. District Court, alleging the school and the Salt Lake City School District failed to inform him of his rights under the federal Family Medical Leave Act and then wrongfully declined to reinstatement him in the post after he took a medical leave. Jason Olsen, school district spokesman, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Lyman had a 32-year coaching career, nearly of which he spent at West High School. In 2009, he coached the Panthers to the 4A championship; that same year, The Salt Lake Tribune named him coach of the year.

Lyman publicly stepped down as the boys' varsity head coach in November 2011 after learning from his doctor he had a heart arrhythmia. Until that diagnosis, he'd attributed feeling poorly to grief over this father's recent death. At the time, Lyman, who also taught physical education and, in the past, social studies, told the media he planned to work with new head coach Mike Matheson as an assistant, a less demanding role that would ensure he did not "pass out and die of a heart attack on the court."

But the lawsuit shows a different discussion apparently was going on out of public view.

According to the complaint, Lyman approached West High School principal Parley Jacobs on Oct. 7, 2011, to inform him of his diagnosis and request a temporary leave. Lyman said he told Jacobs that, according to his physicians, the condition could be cured with medication, diet, and rest and that his recovery would be aided by reducing his stress. Lyman also told the principal he wanted to continue to coach once he was healthy again.

Lyman asked the principal to name an assistant as interim coach for the 2011-12 season, but Jacobs refused and said the position would have to be opened to applicants. Lyman alleges Jacobs did not bring up his rights under FMLA during that meeting.

Later that same day, Lyman again met with Jacobs and said the leave could be handled under FMLA. The principal agreed to look into that possibility, but later told Lyman the law did not apply to coaching positions. Lyman gave Jacobs an official letter resigning as head coach on Oct. 10, and followed up that letter with a clarification that he intended to avail himself of any and all rights under state and federal law, specifically the FMLA.

The act allows eligible employees under covered employers to take unpaid, job-projected leave for specified family and medical reasons, including "a serious health condition that makes the employee unable to perform the essential functions of his or her job." It also requires that, upon return to work, "most" employees are to be given their original jobs or an equivalent position.

In January, after receiving a clean bill of health from his cardiologist, Lyman met with Jacobs and requested reinstatement as head coach. Jacobs again told Lyman that coaching jobs aren't covered by the act under the Salt Lake City School District's policy and he would not be given back the post.

Between May and September, Jacobs and the school district continued to assert that FMLA did not apply to coaching positions and that it was in the best interest of students and West High School to not make a coaching change. In a September letter, the district again refused to reinstate Lyman as head coach and offered to place him in an equivalent position if some accommodation was required.

But Lyman asserts that a special provision in FMLA for educational institutions specifically lists athletic coaches as eligible employees. His lawsuit asks for lost wages and benefits as well as reinstatement as head coach.

The Panthers finished the 2011-12 season with a 5-17 overall record and were 4-5 in league play. They were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs. High school basketball teams will begin practicing the first week in November, with games set to begin Nov. 20.

brooke@sltrib.com

Twitter: @Brooke4Trib