MANCHESTER — A federal court has slammed the door on an appeal by Thomas A. Atwater, the former Manchester Essex Regional High School girls basketball coach and teacher who was ousted in 2005 after he fondled a student basketball player who was visiting his home.
The U.S. District Court in Boston, in a ruling issued last Wednesday by Justice Richard G. Stearns, allowed the commissioner of education's motions for summary judgment, effectively disposing of the case by barring Atwater from proceeding in federal court.
Atwater's suing of the state's commissioner of education was a repeat attempt to challenge an arbitrator's 2005 finding, which affirmed the superintendent's decision to fire Atwater after the fondling incident.
In November, Atwater appealed his dismissal in the state's Supreme Judicial Court and lost. He again attempted to overturn these decisions in federal court.
In February 2005, Atwater, a longtime varsity girls' basketball coach and teacher for over 20 years, invited a then 17-year-old player on his team to his house for dinner and to review of a game tape.
As the girl sat on his couch, Atwater began to massage the student's back then slipped one of his hands down the back of her pants, according to court documents. The girl left promptly and reported the incident two days later, in the meantime receiving multiple apologetic emails from Atwater, court testimony showed.
The school district's superintendent dismissed Atwater from his posts as a teacher and coach at the school, and the Essex County Superior Court at Salem awarded the victim $5,000 in damages in January 2010.
Though Atwater did not initially provide any information to the superintendent as to why he should not be dismissed, Atwater appealed to a professional arbitrator.
When the arbitrator submitted a 99-page finding supporting the superintendent's decision to the court, Atwater appealed again, claiming the arbitration process to be an unconstitutional delegation of judicial power to a private individual, and asserting that the arbiter herself was biased against him.
In his latest appeal, Atwater claimed that, although he had already included three complaints based in federal law in his state Superior Court trial, he reserved the right to have those claims judged in federal court.
The written decision of the case says that Atwater's claims against the state-level court are invalid, stating "it is disingenuous for Atwater to suggest that the SJC reserved his federal claims or validated his reservation."
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000 x3451, or firstname.lastname@example.org.