School district challenges coach’s claim she was slandered at a public meeting

By: - July 19, 2022 4:15 pm

The Iowa City Community School District says statements made about a tennis coach at a school board meeting don't amount to slander since the statements were "partially or entirely true.” (Photo by krisanapong detraphiphat/Getty Images)

The Iowa City Community School District says claims made about a tennis coach at a public school board meeting don’t amount to slander since the statements were “partially or entirely true.”

In June, Amie Villarini, who has worked as Iowa City’s West High School girls’ varsity tennis coach, sued the school district in Johnson County District Court.

According to her lawsuit, complaints were filed against her last year “regarding action she allegedly took while tennis coach” at West High School. The lawsuit does not indicate who filed the complaints or what they pertained to, nor does it specify what “action” of hers triggered the complaints.

The lawsuit says the complaints were investigated by the district in October 2021 and were found to be “completely without merit.”

On April 12 of this year, the lawsuit states, the complainants restated their concerns with Villarini during an open session of a school board meeting. The statements made at the meeting, she alleges, have exposed her to ridicule, public hatred or contempt and amount to slander.

The school district then posted to YouTube and to the district’s website a video recording of the public meeting, as it does with all such meetings, and then refused Villarini’s request that it be removed.

The videos indicate that some of the tennis players Villarini coached complained to the district that Villarini routinely demonstrated bullying behavior.

The coach’s lawsuit seeks unspecified damages for loss of reputation, loss of income, future loss of earning capacity, past and future medical expenses and physical and mental pain and suffering.

Villarini also seeks damages for breach of contract, claiming that although she was fully exonerated by the investigation last fall, the district inexplicably placed her on administrative leave the day after the school board meeting and removed her from her position as tennis coach.

In its newly filed response to the lawsuit, the district admits that while the comments at issue were made by “members of the public during the public-comment portion” of the school board meeting, Villarini’s claim for damages “must fail because the statements in question were partially or entirely true.”

The district admits Villarini was placed on administrative leave on April 13, but denies removing her from her job as coach.

A trial setting conference is scheduled for Aug. 17.

Villarini, who was named Mississippi Valley Conference Coach of the Year in 2015, 2018, 2019 and 2021, is a recipient of the 2020 National High School Coach of Year Award, and has coached two state doubles championships.

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Clark Kauffman
Clark Kauffman

Deputy Editor Clark Kauffman has worked during the past 30 years as both an investigative reporter and editorial writer at two of Iowa’s largest newspapers, the Des Moines Register and the Quad-City Times. He has won numerous state and national awards for reporting and editorial writing. His 2004 series on prosecutorial misconduct in Iowa was named a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting. From October 2018 through November 2019, Kauffman was an assistant ombudsman for the Iowa Office of Ombudsman, an agency that investigates citizens’ complaints of wrongdoing within state and local government agencies.