Fired St. John's assistant files lawsuit alleging wrongful termination over health issues

·3-min read

Former St. John's University assistant coach Steve DeMeo has spent over a year dealing with health issues, and he believes he was fired because of them. 

Sports Illustrated reported that DeMeo filed a wrongful termination lawsuit in federal court on Thursday, alleging that head coach Mike Anderson fired him after learning about DeMeo's ongoing health issues and the accommodations he'd need, like time to attend appointments and undergo further procedures. 

DeMeo had surgery in August 2020 that required him to spend two weeks in the hospital and more time at home recovering. He has a heart condition called mitral valve prolapse, and needed surgery to correct an irregular heartbeat. He also had a mass on his vocal cords surgically removed. 

The court filing, obtained by Sports Illustrated, and an interview SI did with DeMeo, paint a picture of what DeMeo says happened in the lead up to his firing. At his end-of-season performance review in May, DeMeo allegedly told Anderson that he had medical procedures coming up and would need extra time off. Here's what allegedly happened next, via Sports Illustrated:

The suit states that Anderson responded by rolling his eyes and saying, “Well, you have a job to do; you have to do it.” The meeting ended shortly thereafter.

Anderson was suddenly fired on June 8, about a month after the performance review. 

NEW YORK, NY - FEBRUARY 20:  Head coach Mike Anderson of the St. John's Red Storm during a college basketball game against the DePaul Blue Demons at Carnesecca Arena on February 20, 2021 in the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Porter Binks/Getty Images)
St. John's head coach Mike Anderson is accused of firing his assistant coach, Steve DeMeo, because he needed extra time off due to his heart condition. (Photo by Porter Binks/Getty Images)

“I thought we were supposed to be a family,” DeMeo told Sports Illustrated. “[Anderson] preaches family all the time, togetherness, supporting each other in hard times and all that stuff, and that’s kind of why I feel sick to my stomach about this whole thing.”

Culture problems

The court filing goes beyond Anderson allegedly firing DeMeo over health reasons. It details alleged culture problems on the team which stemmed from Anderson's attitude and tactics with his players. 

Anderson allegedly tried to kick one student, Isaih Moore, off the team two different times — once at halftime during a game. Both times the rest of the players revolted, refusing to play or practice any further until Moore was reinstated. He was reinstated both times, but entered the transfer portal earlier this year and no longer attends St. John's.

The team was apparently so dissatisfied with Anderson that they allegedly refused to play for him at the NIT. According to the lawsuit, the reason St. John's gave for skipping the NIT — that the demands of COVID-19 protocols were too great — was merely an excuse to cover up the real reason. 

St. John's released a short statement about the lawsuit and the related allegations. 

St. John’s University and Coach Mike Anderson categorically deny Steve DeMeo’s allegations of wrongdoing, but cannot otherwise comment on pending litigation.

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