Caden Cox: First player with Down syndrome known to appear in college football game sues alma mater for alleged discrimination


Caden Cox made history in 2021 while a student-athlete at Hocking College as the first known player with Down syndrome to play and score in a college football game.

Two years later, the 23-year-old is suing his alma mater for alleged discrimination, assault and harassment he faced as a student, according to the lawsuit – and when the behavior was reported to school administrators , he was retaliated against, he said.

Cox was both a student athlete and an employee of the two-year-old public school student recreation center in Nelsonville, Ohio when his supervisor, Matthew Kmosko, consistently made abusive, derogatory and inappropriate comments. to Cox in the form of derogatory insults about people with Down syndrome, the suit says. Kmosko would also degrade Cox’s abilities, berate and yell at him often and in front of other co-workers, according to the lawsuit.

On several occasions, Kmosko even took Cox’s phone and looked at it without permission, according to the suit.

CNN contacted Kmosko and his attorney.

The last thing Cox’s family wanted was to take legal action against a school that played a major role in their lives, his mother Mari Cox told CNN, adding that her son had had a great experience there before. the harassment.

“We just felt like our complaints to administrators were going nowhere,” she said. “We really hope this will lead to a change in the way bullying is dealt with for all vulnerable students in the school.”

The lawsuit, which was filed Thursday, names the college’s board of trustees, its president, Betty Young, Kmosko and unnamed employees of Hocking as defendants. He alleges that Caden Cox was discriminated against because of his disability, violating the US Federal Disabilities Act and state anti-discrimination law.

Hocking College and its board of trustees will cooperate with those responsible for the investigation, the college told CNN in a statement Monday, but will not comment on ongoing or ongoing litigation.

“Hocking College is and always will be committed to advancing the college’s mission by continuing to train to meet the workforce needs of our communities and to promote student success and economic development in our region,” says the communicated.

Kmosko was hired by Hocking College as the campus recreation and student center coordinator, and as a football coach in July 2021, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that Kmosko’s abuse began a few months after he was hired. It ended in May 2022, when Kmosko held Cox at knifepoint during a shift, the suit said. Cox went to the men’s bathroom to change the trash bags when Kmosko followed him, physically blocked the exit and yelled at Cox to change the trash can while pointing a silver, black-handled knife at his chest, indicated the costume.

College surveillance camera footage captured Kmosko entering and exiting the bathroom with the weapon, the suit said, and Kmosko was charged and convicted on a misdemeanor charge in municipal county court. from Athens.

Kmosko had been recommended for hire by Young, the college’s president, on the word of an unknown Hocking College board member and no background checks were performed, the lawsuit said. He alleges that Young refused a request for such a check.

The school administration “failed to adequately protect (Cox) despite actual and constructive knowledge of Mr. Kmosko’s abuse and harassment following reports,” the lawsuit said.

On two occasions, the college and Young received complaints, in writing, of Kmosko’s behavior, according to the lawsuit:

  • In July 2021, Cox’s mother, Mari Cox, who works at the school, personally delivered a written complaint about Kmosko’s behavior to Hocking College’s human resources department, according to the lawsuit.
  • On Jan. 10, 2022, Mari Cox sent another email complaint requesting that her son be given another supervisor for some of the same reasons listed in the first complaint, the lawsuit said.

Kmosko, who resigned from college after the knife incident, was charged in July 2022 with aggravated threat, a misdemeanor, in connection with the incident, according to the criminal record. An Athens County jury found him guilty of threatening in January and he was sentenced to 30 days in jail, records show.

Court records show Kmosko is appealing the conviction. His attorney in that appeal declined to comment on the lawsuit.

In mid-November 2022, a college committee voted for Cox to receive three awards: the Inspirational Award, the Scholar Athlete Award and the Hocking College Trustee Award, according to the lawsuit.

Cox’s name was on the list of recipients of all three program awards that was submitted to the press, the lawsuit said.

In early December 2022, a letter detailing the allegations of discrimination, harassment and assault was delivered to the college and the administration was notified of Cox’s legal representation, according to the lawsuit.

A week later, on December 9, Cox’s father, Kevin Cox, who also works at the college, arrived on campus to prepare for graduation when he realized the programs had failed the name of his son as the recipient of two of the three awards he was originally. expected to receive, said the suit. The lawsuit says there was no policy in place that students only receive one award.

Cox spoke to the vice president’s assistant, who said the vice president of student affairs asked her to call the print shop and make a change, the suit said.

Cox attended the graduation and received the Inspirational award, but not the other two, according to the suit.

The lawsuit calls for a jury trial and seeks punitive and compensatory damages. It calls on the university to put in place and follow policies to protect students from harassment, abuse, and discrimination.

After graduating, Cox completed a football-related internship at Texas A&M University, where his older brother works as a strength coach, his attorney, Mark Weiker, told The Washington Post. In June, he plans to attend an orientation program through an Ohio State University program for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

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