May 31, 2023

Caden Cox made history at Hocking College in 2021 when he became the first known person with Down syndrome to play and score in a college football game. Now he is suing the junior college, claiming he was discriminated against, harassed and assaulted.

In a lawsuit filed Thursday by his mother, Mari Cox, Mr. Cox a former supervisor of the student recreation center where Mr. Cox worked from “discrimination based on disability, physical assault and persistent verbal harassment”.

Mr. Cox burst onto the national sports scene in the fall of 2021, after kicking a field goal in the third quarter and kicking three more that season, earning him a feature on ESPN. Months later he created a clothing collection with the brand Jake Max, using the colors of the school.

“They said he couldn’t even go to college and see where he is,” Mari Cox told the network at the time.

Mr. Cox also worked while attending Hocking College, a community college in Nelsonville, Ohio, where the lawsuit alleges he was harassed and assaulted by his boss. His supervisor, Matthew Kmosko, is among the defendants named in the lawsuit, along with Betty Young, the school president, board of trustees, and five unnamed college employees.

Mr Kmosko, who resigned, was found guilty of threatening Mr Cox in January and sentenced to 30 days in prison.

The college and board of trustees said in an emailed statement that they would not comment on ongoing investigations or litigation, but “will work with officials.”

Dr. Young also declined to comment on the lawsuit, filed in the U.S. District Court for Southern Ohio. “I am pleased that Hocking College can provide Caden with the opportunity to become a successful student and student-athlete and graduate now,” she said in an email, adding that the school “remains committed to all our students.”

Mr Kmosko repeatedly used “disparaging insults about individuals with Down syndrome”, degraded Mr Cox’s abilities, once demanded to go through his phone and inappropriately place his hand on Mr Cox, the lawsuit alleged, and he was the subject of other harassment complaints.

In July 2021 and again in January 2022, Ms. Cox, who also works at Hocking College, emailed concerns about Mr. Kmosko to school officials, but his behavior only worsened, the lawsuit said, culminating in Mr. Kmosko following Mr. Cox into a bathroom and threatened him with a knife.

Mr Cox was granted a protective order against Mr Kmosko in May 2022, but the harassment left him with a fear that limited his ability to go to campus, the indictment said, and he would be upset any time he saw a red car that looked like Van Mr. Kmosko.

The lawsuit blames “the willful indifference of Dr. Y-oung and other Hocking staff” for the trauma suffered by Mr. Cox at the hands of Mr. Kmosko, for which he is seeking damages and damages.

It also accuses the college of retaliation, saying it denied Mr Cox two graduation awards he was promised after lawyers representing the Cox family delivered a letter to the school board detailing their allegations in early December.

After graduating from Hocking College last year, Mr. Cox participates in a football internship at Texas A&M. He expects to attend Ohio State University in the fall for a certificate program for students with disabilities.

“The last thing we wanted was a lawsuit. This university has been an important part of our lives,” Ms Cox said in a statement shared by a lawyer.

“Caden had a great experience before this happened. We just felt like our complaints to administrators were going nowhere,” Ms. Cox wrote. “We really hope this leads to a change in how harassment is handled for all vulnerable students in the school.”