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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — A former UCF football assistant coach is suing the university and the athletic department for breach of contract, alleging that coach George O'Leary engaged in continuous criticism of his work and created a work environment that included bullying, threatening behavior and repeated discriminatory epithets.
Former defensive coordinator Paul Ferraro filed the suit in Florida last week. The suit alleges O'Leary made derogatory remarks about Ferraro's Italian heritage, African-Americans and persons of Jewish descent.
Ferraro was hired as the Knights defensive coordinator on Dec. 26 of last year following the departure of Jim Fleming. The hiring came just days before UCF played Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl on New Year's Day.
Ferraro states in the suit that he was given a termination letter on Feb. 26, a day after he voiced his concerns to the school's human resources department and in an email to O'Leary and his fellow assistant coaches.
That email was attached as an exhibit to the lawsuit.
"No longer will I put up with your constant verbal abuse of both our coaching and support staff," Ferraro wrote in the email. "Threatening coaches on a regular basis with their jobs and racial slurs mixed in to make a point is wrong. I guess that formula of bullying has worked in terms of wins (and) losses but it is not the working environment that I want to be associated with."
UCF spokesman Grant Heston said in a statement that the school previously investigated Ferraro's accusations and that they were found to be without merit.
"UCF immediately investigated the allegations Mr. Ferraro made when he abruptly abandoned his job," the statement said. "The university's Equal Opportunity and Affirmative Action office found the allegations to be untrue.
"None of the individuals alleged to have been the subject of, or to have overhead, these supposed statements corroborated Mr. Ferraro's claims. In fact, until seeking compensation after abandoning his job, it does not appear he ever discussed this with anyone at UCF."
Ferraro maintains he never actually resigned from his post.
Asked why Ferraro waited months to file the suit, Ferraro's attorney Gary Wilson said in an email to The Associated Press that it was delayed in an effort "to resolve this pre-suit and without publicity."
"We respect what UCF means to the Central Florida community and we applaud UCF's accomplishments both on and off the football field," Wilson's law firm said in a statement. "However, Coach Ferraro deserves representation like anyone else who has been wronged. We are simply acting as his voice and intend no harm toward UCF or (University of Central Florida Athletic Association)."
According to the suit, Ferraro was asked by O'Leary to delay assuming his coaching duties until after the Fiesta Bowl. Interim coordinator Tyson Summers coached the Knights defense in that game.
Afterward when Ferraro began his job, he says that O'Leary contradicted previous desires to simplify the defensive schemes and claims that O'Leary "micromanaged" him and "engaged in continuous and unwarranted criticism" of his work.
Ferraro said that O'Leary's actions appeared to be to him an effort to not honor his contract and to replace him with Summers, who has subsequently taken over as the Knights defensive coordinator.
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