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Fired MSU coach Mel Tucker says he is going to sue the school, and win

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Fired Michigan State University head football coach Mel Tucker has asked a judge to block media scrutiny of his pending divorce, saying he fears his estranged wife will make false allegations that will invade his privacy and hurt his chances of getting another job.

The court filings this week also make it clear that Tucker still plans to sue Michigan State for wrongful termination – and expects to win.

He asked Ingham County Circuit Court judge Carol Koenig to vacate the mutual restraining order she granted on April 25 at his wife’s behest that bars him from spending their joint funds on his legal fees. He argued he needs to keep paying them to win his ongoing litigation and that doing so would ‘potentially enhance the ultimate marital estate’ to his wife’s benefit.

‘Plaintiff’s allegations, and the resulting order, simply put, are cutting her nose off to spite herself,’ the filings say.

Michigan State suspended Tucker without pay in September hours after a USA TODAY investigation revealed sexual harassment allegations against him by prominent rape survivor and activist Brenda Tracy, whom Tucker had hired in August 2021 to speak to his team about preventing sexual misconduct.

MSU fired Tucker for cause two weeks later, canceling the roughly $75 million remaining on his record 10-year, $95 million contract. Tucker’s attorneys indicated at the time that he would sue for wrongful termination but he has not yet done so.

Jo Ellyn Tucker filed a divorce complaint against Tucker on April 5 after 25 years of marriage. Her divorce complaint seeks, among other things, an equitable division of their marital assets ‘taking into account the cause(s) for the breakdown of the marriage.’

Three weeks later, Jo Ellyn was granted the restraining order, which alleged that her husband had spent more than $1.5 million from their joint funds on his personal legal bills – which she said is not a marital expense – and moved all the money from his retirement accounts to funds that she could not access just before she filed the divorce complaint.

Tucker disputed those allegations in the new filings, saying his wife never had access to his retirement accounts and knew of his plans to consolidate them. He also refuted his wife’s characterization of his legal fees as excessive, saying it ‘ignores the reality of the parties’ multi-million estate’ and the fact that his ongoing litigation could result in a windfall for both of them if successful.

Tucker took issue with news coverage of his wife’s allegations, which he cited as his basis for asking the judge to seal the record of the case. He is also seeking a protective order over discovery, noting his wife had requested information about his potential future employment and healthcare, credit card statements and bank records, and that he had requested similar information from her.

‘Disclosure of this information is annoying, embarrassing, oppressive and unduly burdensome to both parties if it is not kept confidential,’ Tucker’s attorneys wrote.

He filed the motion for the protective order and to seal the case after his wife’s attorneys rejected his attorneys’ requests to do so mutually, the filings say.

Tucker has employed attorneys to defend him in the sexual harassment case since at least December 2022, when Tracy filed a complaint against him with the school’s Title IX office, case records obtained by USA TODAY show.

After their initial meeting in August 2021, Tucker expressed interest in Tracy’s cause of engaging men as the solution to gender-based violence, and they struck up a professional relationship and friendship. Over the next year, Tucker twice invited Tracy back to East Lansing, first to be the honorary captain at a Spartans football game and again for a future training with coaches and players.

During that time, Tucker made a series of romantic overtures toward Tracy, who would later tell campus investigators that she walked a tightrope trying to set boundaries with Tucker while maintaining their business partnership. Each time, she said, he initially pulled back, then resumed advances that increased in severity. The pattern culminated in a phone call in April 2022 in which Tracy said Tucker masturbated and make sexual comments without her consent.

Tracy said the next – and last – time they spoke, in August 2022, Tucker threatened to ruin her career if she spoke out about his conduct.

After a seven-month inquiry by an outside investigator hired by MSU, a different outside hearing officer concluded in October that Tucker sexually harassed and exploited Tracy in the April 2022 phone call; made unwanted sexual advances toward her in the eight months before the call; and engaged in quid pro quo sexual harassment afterward when he ended their business relationship.

Another outside attorney hired by MSU denied Tucker’s appeal in January, affirming the hearing officer’s decision that Tracy’s version of events was more plausible, consistent and supported by the evidence.

Even Tucker’s version of events – that he and Tracy had been in a romantic relationship and had consensual ‘phone sex’ – constituted a fireable offense, the college’s athletic director, Alan Haller, wrote in his termination letter.

Tracy’s nonprofit, Set The Expectation, and her public speaking business sued Tucker in October to stop him from releasing private text messages he had obtained from the cellphone of her deceased best friend and business assistant, which she said contained a mix of personal and business information. She was granted a restraining order. That litigation is ongoing.

In March, Tracy and Set The Expectation also filed an intent to sue Tucker and the university â€“ a mandatory precursor to filing a lawsuit against a government agency – accusing him of damaging her reputation and future earnings, hamstringing her charitable work and causing severe psychological and emotional harm. She is seeking damages of more than $75 million.

Kenny Jacoby is an investigative reporter for USA TODAY covering sexual misconduct and Title IX. Contact him by email at kjacoby@usatoday.com or follow him on X @kennyjacoby. 

This post appeared first on USA TODAY