MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Parents who defame public high school coaches can now face a lawsuit if they go too far, according to a landmark ruling issued by the Minnesota Supreme Court.

As Esme Murphy reports, the Coaches Association is haling this as a game changer.

This case started in 2014 when parents accused Woodbury High School girls basketball coach Nathan McGuire of swearing during practice, inappropriately touching players and flirting with them. He was almost immediately put on leave and then lost his coaching job. None of the allegations were substantiated.

He initially took this lawsuit to district court, where it was assumed that he’s a public official because he coaches for a public high school. To have a valid defamation case, public officials must prove malice, which is very hard to do.

“It doesn’t take much for a parent to make a complaint and affect their livelihood and affect their careers,” said Donald Mark, McGuire’s attorney.

The Supreme Court ruling found that high school coaches are not public figures, which means it is much easier for parents or anyone to defame them.

“I don’t think it is always fair that they are accused of things because maybe people aren’t happy with the way they are coaching the team,” said Kellie Newman, of White Bear Lake.

The State’s Coaches Association released the following statement:

“The decision handed down by the Minnesota Supreme Court is not designed to protect coaches who do bad things or make bad decisions, but we hope it will protect the integrity of a good coach from slander and defamation from a disgruntled parent, guardian or player.”

“You can still say, ‘I don’t think this coach made the right call in this game, I don’t think the coach is putting the right players on the field,’ but when you get into the area of accusing someone of a crime or saying they have been in jail than you have crossed the line if it is not true,” Attorney Joe Tamburino added.

The ruling allows McGuire’s defamation lawsuit against the parents who made the allegations to go forward. We reached out to parents who were named in the lawsuit and did not hear back.

Legal experts say the ruling will also apply to coaches and parents involved in youth sports.

Esme Murphy

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