Former student files a federal discrimination lawsuit against Hocking College

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) –– A former student who brought national attention to Hocking College as a member of its football team has filed a discrimination lawsuit against the college.

Caden Cox, who has Down syndrome and worked at the college while he was a student, alleges that his supervisor harassed him because of his disability — including calling him a slur used toward people with mental disabilities — and at one point threatened him with a knife.

The knife incident led to criminal charges against the supervisor, Matthew Kmosko, who was convicted by a jury after a trial earlier this year.

College administrators knew about the harassment but did not take sufficient steps to address it, according to the lawsuit. Administrators also retaliated against Cox by stripping him of two awards he was supposed to receive at graduation, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit, filed Thursday in federal court, lists the college’s board of trustees, its president, Betty Young, and Kmosko as defendants. It alleges Cox was discriminated against because of his disability, violating the federal Americans With Disabilities Act and state anti-discrimination law.

In an email Hocking College said, “The board nor the college comment on active investigations or litigations. Hocking College is and always will be committed to moving the college mission forward by continuing to train to meet the workforce needs of our communities and to promote student success and economic development within our region.”

WOUB also tried to reach Kmosko through his attorney in the criminal case but did not receive a response.

Cox began attending Hocking College in January 2021. Nine months later he made history when he kicked a field goal in the third quarter of a home game against Sussex Community College.

He was the first person with Down syndrome to not only play in an NCAA or NJCAA college football game but also to score a point. The story drew national media attention, including a feature on ESPN.

Cox worked at the college’s Student Center and, according to the lawsuit, his troubles began when Kmosko became his supervisor.

Kmosko is a former professional soccer player. According to his Major League Soccer profile, he played four seasons in the 1990s. His final season was with the Columbus Crew.

Hocking College hired Kmosko at the request of a member of the college’s board of trustees, according to the lawsuit. Mark Weiker, the Columbus attorney representing Cox, said he does not yet know which trustee made the request.

Young, the college’s president, told the director of human resources not to conduct a background check on Kmosko despite the college’s policy to do such checks on prospective employees, the lawsuit alleges.

A background check would have revealed a history of domestic violence accusations against Kmosko, the lawsuit alleges.

“It can be inferred that Dr. Young and the Board were aware of Mr. Kmosko’s history of violent behavior as well as his propensity of harassment as otherwise they would have conducted a proper background check per Hocking College custom,” the lawsuit alleges.

Kmosko was hired in June 2021 as a soccer coach and as coordinator of the Student Center, where Cox worked. The harassment began a few months later. Kmosko “consistently made abusive, derogatory, and inappropriate comments” to Cox and “verbally and physically harassed” him, the lawsuit alleges.

“Specifically, Mr. Kmosko would consistently make derogatory slurs about individuals with Down Syndrome to Plaintiff during work hours, use the word ‘retarded’ and degrade his abilities, and berate and yell at Plaintiff frequently and in front of his co-workers,” according to the lawsuit.

In July 2021, Cox’s mother, Mari Cox, who works at the college, hand delivered a complaint about Kmosko’s conduct toward her son to the human resources department.

“Matt made a comment that Caden is ‘limited to what he can do,” Mari wrote in her complaint.

Mari filed another complaint in January 2022, this time asking that Kmosko be replaced as her son’s supervisor. Soon after, Caden was given a new supervisor, but he was still in direct contact with Kmosko at the Student Center.

Meanwhile, several other students who worked under Kmosko filed complaints, according to the lawsuit.

One male student complained that Kmosko would text him “incessantly” after work and discuss his sexual encounters and past drug use, according to the lawsuit. The student also said Kmosko described graphic sexual ideations about female employees to him, according to the lawsuit.

Another student alleged that Kmosko used a slur against those with mental disabilities in her presence, described his sexual and drug-related exploits, and made sexually inappropriate comments about other female employees, according to the lawsuit.

The person who investigated these complaints, along with Young, told Kmosko to stop using inappropriate language and texting employees after work hours, according to the lawsuit. 

“Beyond that, there was no substantive changes to address their complaints or protect students and employees from further inappropriate behavior by Mr. Kmosko,” the lawsuit alleges.

Things came to a head on May 12, 2022. Caden Cox went into the men’s restroom at the Student Center to change out the trash bags. Kmosko followed him in, blocked the exit and began to scream at him that he told him to empty the trash while pointing a knife at Cox’s chest, according to the lawsuit.

Surveillance camera footage captured Kmosko walking in and out of the bathroom carrying the knife.

Three days later, Mari Cox met with a college administrator to discuss the incident and was advised to contact campus police.

On May 17, Caden Cox and his parents were questioned by the human resources director, who sent her report to Young, according to the lawsuit. The same day, Kmosko arrived for work and was questioned by campus police and the human resources director.

In her report, the human resources director indicated Kmosko’s personnel file did not contain any disciplinary reports or complaints about his past behavior, according to the lawsuit.

“It seems that the complaints made about Mr. Kmosko and any disciplinary records were removed or deleted,” despite the college’s written policy to retain employee records for seven years, the lawsuit alleges.

That same day, Kmosko submitted his resignation.

By this time, college administrators had long been aware of Kmosko’s behavior toward Cox but “failed to promptly, adequately, and responsibly investigate and manage Mr. Kmosko or ensure Plaintiff’s safety,” the lawsuit alleges.

Several months later, in mid-November 2022, according to the lawsuit, a college committee voted to give Cox three awards at the graduation ceremony in December: the Inspirational Award, Scholar Athlete Award and Hocking College Trustee Award.

Cox’s name was listed for the three awards in the program submitted to the printer, according to the lawsuit.

Then in early December, the college was notified that Cox had retained attorneys, who sent a letter detailing the allegations that would become the basis for the lawsuit.

The printed program distributed at the Dec. 10 graduation ceremony listed Cox as the recipient of just one of the three awards. But a QR code that linked to a virtual program still listed him as the recipient of the three awards.

Cox’s father, Kevin Cox, who also works at the college, talked to members of the voting committee, who said they were unaware of the change, according to the lawsuit. He then spoke to the assistant to the vice president, who said the vice president of student affairs asked her to call the printer and make the change, according to the lawsuit.

This was retaliation for Cox and his parents seeking to take legal action “in response to the Board and Dr. Young’s insufficient response to the assault and discriminatory conduct,” the lawsuit alleges.

A criminal charge of aggravated menacing was brought against Kmosko in July 2022. He was tried in January and the jury found him guilty of menacing, a lesser charge. He was sentenced to 30 days in jail.

Kmosko is now appealing that conviction.