The Sacramento Superior Court jury found the diocese had wrongfully terminated, retaliated against and defamed the coach, Christopher Cerbone, after he reported the hazing at St. Patrick-St. Vincent High School in Vallejo in December 2012.
The jurors who awarded Cerbone $900,000 in compensatory damages also held the diocese liable for punitive damages. They were scheduled to continue deliberations on the punitive award. But before they could begin, the lawyer for the diocese made the $4 million offer to plaintiff attorneys.
Despite the termination, Cerbone, 52, found a job as an assistant principal at a school in King City that paid him $30,000 more than he made at St. Patrick-St. Vincent’s. He testified at trial, however, that his termination and a diocese news release that named him as being “ultimately responsible” for the hazing ruined his chance of ever finding a job again in a field that ignited his true passion.
Cerbone coached one season, in fall 2012. He testified he found out about the hazing just before the Christmas break and reported the details of the sexually-tinged conduct to the school principal. The diocese launched an investigation when school resumed the next month. When they were finished, officials on Jan. 25, 2013, fired Cerbone and expelled five players for their alleged “punking” of younger students by exposing their genitalia and making inappropriate contact with them.
“It’s vindication for Chris Cerbone and anyone who needs protection when they stand up and tell the truth about misconduct,” said Cerbone’s attorney. “We think this sends a message: You can’t punish people for doing the right thing.”
In its verdicts Wednesday, jurors voted 9-3 that the diocese retaliated against Cerbone for reporting the hazing and wrongfully fired him as a result. It voted 10-2 that the diocese defamed Cerbone by putting out a news release the day he was fired, naming him as being “ultimately responsible” for his players’ misconduct.
Jurors awarded Cerbone the $900,000 in compensatory damages Wednesday, but the $4 million settlement Thursday covered all causes of actions and contained a provision that the diocese will not file an appeal, Lowe said.
Jurors interviewed characterized the diocese’s investigation of the hazing allegations as “extremely unorganized” and “flawed” and “very hush-hush,’ which seemed inappropriate for the situation.