Kevin Ollie is accusing the University of Connecticut of violating his constitutional rights by firing him for cause and thereby avoiding the eight-figure payout a termination without cause would have demanded.
In a letter submitted to school president Susan Herbst and obtained by ESPN, Ollie's lawyers say the university proceeded with the firing in March before granting Ollie a proper opportunity to contest the termination, as guaranteed in his contract and the collective bargaining agreement with his union.
The men's basketball program is the subject of an ongoing NCAA inquiry, which is the reason UConn cited when it announced its decision. Details of the inquiry are unclear, but the NCAA has not sent a notice of allegations to the school, according to sources with knowledge of the case.
"From our review of the facts and circumstances relating to Coach Ollie's employment status, it is apparent that the University of Connecticut has already violated [Coach Ollie's] rights under the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution by subverting Coach Ollie's opportunity to respond to charges and evidence in a meaningful way in advance of the decision to terminate his employment," said the letter dated April 3.
"The public record, action taken, and authorized communications by representatives of the University of Connecticut, demonstrate that the decision to terminate Coach Ollie has already been made and therefore the University of Connecticut has effectively negated Coach Ollie's property right protected by the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution."
The 14th Amendment addresses due process, which the letter says the school violated. The letter could signal the beginning of a lengthy legal battle over the $10 million-plus Ollie believes he's owed under his contract.
Ollie is a member the University of Connecticut's branch of the American Association of University Professors, a union that represents thousands of faculty members around the country. The union's collective bargaining agreement demands a hearing process before any employee can be terminated for allegations of serious misconduct.
The process is supposed to begin with the employee receiving a letter outlining the reasons for his or her termination, a letter Ollie says he did not receive.
Last week, Ollie attended a hearing with athletic director David Benedict to appeal his termination for cause. Benedict maintained the school's stance that it had a right to fire Ollie with cause and not pay him.
Ollie next will have a hearing with Herbst. If unhappy with Herbst's ruling, he could choose to use an arbitrator who would have the final word on whether the school was justified in firing him for cause. If an arbitrator rules against him, Ollie could consider filing a lawsuit based on what he deems to be a violation of his constitutional rights.
The school, which hired former Rhode Island coach Danny Hurley two weeks after Ollie's dismissal, did not respond to ESPN's request for comment.
The allegations of potential NCAA violations within the program could prove critical to UConn's argument.
Ollie's contract, which was set to expire in 2021, stated, "it shall be the responsibility of the coach to promote an atmosphere of compliance within the program supervised by the coach and to diligently monitor the activities regarding the compliance of all assistant coaches and other administrators involved with the program."
In a statement to ESPN in March, Ollie said he followed that obligation throughout his tenure.
Ollie, a former star for the Huskies and NBA veteran, coached UConn to the national title in 2014. But the Huskies missed the last two NCAA tournaments and have failed to make noise on the national recruiting scene in recent years. They finished 14-18 in Ollie's final season.
"Our goal, above all, is to ensure we have a program that UConn Nation can be proud of, including our students, alumni, fans and all our committed supporters," Herbst said in a statement when Ollie's termination for cause was announced.