Former baseball coach sues university


Nina Martinez / Hilltop Views

Rob Penders is suing St. Edward’s University for wrongful termination. The lawsuit follows his termination in December.

A former St. Edward’s University baseball coach is suing the university for wrongful termination.

Rob Penders filed a federal lawsuit on Feb. 28 alleging the university fired him despite the results of two investigations that exonerated him of alleged racist and discriminatory actions regarding two players.

In the lawsuit, Penders’ lawyer Tom Nesbitt argues that university President Montserrat Fuentes caved to pressure from an online petition and TikTok campaign designed to discredit Penders.

“President Fuentes learned of the online petition and a wave of student reactions to it,” the lawsuit says. “Met with a moment that screamed out for Fuentes to tell the truth to the St. Edward’s community — that Penders had been exonerated in an external investigation and by Fuentes herself — President Fuentes instead rejected truth….”

According to the lawsuit, Penders was “muzzled” by the university administration with instructions to say nothing on the matter.

St. Edward’s University Director of Communications Gwen Schuler released the following statement on behalf the university.

“On Monday, Feb. 28, 2022, former head baseball coach, Rob Penders, filed a wrongful termination lawsuit. Coach Penders was terminated by St. Edward’s University on Dec. 3, 2021, due to the nature of his interactions with student athletes on the baseball team, and his subsequent discussions with his supervisors within the athletic department. Coach Penders was not terminated on the basis of his race. Contrary to his claims in the lawsuit, the university did not prohibit Coach Penders from responding to any of the investigations, online criticism or media reports.”

The university must file an answer to the complaint by May 4. Originally, the deadline was April 4, but the university was granted a 30-day extension. Nesbitt has also demanded that Fuentes retract a Dec. 3 letter released to the St. Edward’s community announcing Penders’ termination.

Hilltop Views spoke to Nesbitt and was given a statement about the situation.

“As St. Edward’s students marched, rallied and petitioned to have Coach Penders fired over vague allegations of racism, a leader with an ounce of courage or integrity would have told students the truth – which is that an external investigator had already investigated those allegations and that the investigator and President Fuentes herself had already found that Coach Penders had not committed any act of discrimination or racism,” Nesbitt said. “If President Fuentes cared about the truth, she would have told students what President Fuentes told Rob Penders in an email after the investigation ended – that she was ‘so excited about the bright future of our baseball team under [Coach Penders’] leadership’. Instead of telling students the truth, President Fuentes misled students into believing she had reached the opposite conclusion about Coach Penders. Why? To advance a phony narrative that she had to punish Coach Penders in her fight for social justice.”

Penders just wants people to know the truth

— Tom Nesbitt

In October, after a St. Edward’s baseball player filed a discrimination complaint against Penders, the university hired an investigator, attorney DeDe Church of DeDe Church & Associates, in Austin, according to the lawsuit. Church’s investigation found that, “allegations of racism and discrimination were without merit,” the lawsuit says.

An anonymous petition soon appeared online entitled: “Remove Coach Penders of St. Edward’s University for Racist Comments and Discrimination.” The petition received 605 signatures. Students then protested outside Main Building on campus urging people to take action against racism and uphold the Holy Cross mission.

A former student, also a baseball player, then lodged a complaint against Penders over an alleged incident that the student said took place years prior.

The university launched a second investigation, also conducted by Church, according to the lawsuit. That investigation, “concluded unequivocally that Penders had not engaged in racism, discrimination or any other violation of university rule or policy,” regarding the student, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit goes on to say: “The St. Edward’s administration never did set the record straight about the outcome of the investigation.”

Nesbitt said he has advised Penders not to speak publicly.

“I just want people to know the truth,” Nesbitt said. “Penders just wants people to know the truth.”