Ex-Central High assistant football coach sues over firing

A former Central High School assistant football coach contends in a lawsuit that he lost his coaching job last month because he bought a local daiquiri shop in January.

Michael Gardner claims he told several School Board members and Central High Principal Bob Wales of the purchase, and even offered to donate money from Twisted Daiquiris to Central High athletics because a number of local businesses that serve alcoholic beverages do the same.

“Wales advised (Gardner) that he would not be allowed to make any such donations because the sale of liquor is a sin and, particularly, because (Gardner) is a Coach and ‘role model’” the suit, filed Tuesday in state district court in Baton Rouge, alleges.

Wales later ordered Gardner into his office for a March 12 meeting, which Gardner recorded, the suit says. Gardner claims he was removed as football coach at that meeting.

The suit quotes Wales as saying during the meeting, “When you took ownership of that bar, I gave myself time to think about it, a long time, and I’ve thought about it and I’ve prayed about it, and I just in good conscience cannot allow you to coach our kids at this level.”

The suit also alleges that in 2012 Wales began asking Gardner whether or not Gardner was going to church and questioning Gardner’s Catholic faith. Gardner told Wales that asking such things at work was illegal, after which Gardner was retaliated against by being barred from the sidelines and moved to Central Middle School, the suit states.

“The law does not allow a public body to condition employment on the acceptance of a particular religious belief or set of beliefs. In this case, that is unfortunately just what happened,” Gardner’s attorney, Jill Craft, said Wednesday.

After Gardner and his sister purchased a legitimate and licensed business, Wales fired him from football “because owning a daiquiri shop was apparently against Mr. Wales’ religious beliefs,” Craft added, noting that Gardner seeks reinstatement as a coach.

The suit names the Central Community School System and Wales as defendants.

Central Superintendent Michael Faulk said Wednesday he had not seen the lawsuit and could not comment on it.

The suit has been assigned to state District Judge Janice Clark.