Allegations by former tennis players at a school board meeting already had been investigated and unfounded
Iowa City West coach Amie Villarini talks June 3, 2021, with her players during a break in the Class 2A doubles semifinals of the Iowa Girls High School State Tennis Tournament at the Hawkeye Recreation & Tennis Complex in Iowa City. (The Gazette)
IOWA CITY — West High girls varsity tennis coach Amie Villarini is suing the Iowa City Community School District for defamation after allegations were made against her by former players in a public school board meeting earlier this year that a school investigation showed were unfounded.
Villarini, who is in her 10th season with a 128-21 record, is seeking unspecified damages for “loss of reputation, loss of income, future loss of earning capacity, past and future medical expenses, past and future physical and mental pain and suffering , including loss of enjoyment of life,” according to the lawsuit filed last week in Johnson County District Court.
Last year, complaints were filed against Villarini in the school district regarding alleged actions by her as tennis coach. Those complaints were investigated by the Iowa City Community School District and found to be without merit.
An investigation concluded in October 2021 found that Villarini did not bully or harass any player on the tennis team, according to the report obtained by The Gazette.
Villarini was cautioned in the school system investigative report against touching players “as much as reasonably possible” but it rejected complaints from some students and parents.
Months later, the investigation was brought up at an April 12 Iowa City school board meeting as a group of former players came forward during public comments. Only two of the five former players addressed the board, not specifying the coach’s name.
The statements made at the board meeting injured the reputation of Villarini, according to the lawsuit, exposed her to public hatred, contempt or ridicule and injured her professionally.
Despite the fact that the district’s own investigation cleared Villarini, she was placed on administrative leave April 13, according to the lawsuit. As of Thursday, Villarini still is listed as head coach for girls tennis at West High on the district’s website.
The April 12 meeting was published to the Iowa City Community School District YouTube channel shortly after the meeting, a standard practice for the district after school board meetings.
Villarini and her representatives told district officials and its attorneys that the video defamed her and requested the defamatory portion be removed, according to the lawsuit. Despite many requests, officials refused to do anything regarding the video, the suit said.
As of Thursday morning, the video was still on the district’s YouTube channel and had 1,200 views.
Iowa City schools employees have made further improper and defamatory statements about her work as a tennis coach, according to the lawsuit.
District officials did not respond Thursday to requests for comment by The Gazette.
Villarini has been employed as the West High girls’ varsity tennis coach since 2013, during which time her record has been “exemplary,” according to the lawsuit.
She coached two state doubles championships in 2017 and 2018, team state champions in 2018 and state runner-up doubles and team state runner-up in 2019. The team won the Class 2A state crown in 2018, finished second in 2019 and took third last season (the 2020 season was canceled due to COVID-19).
Eight players who contributed to West High’s state run last year did not return for the 2022 season.
Numerous accolades include Villarini being named MVC Coach of the Year in 2015, 2018, 2019 and 2021; USTA High School Coach of the Year for Iowa in 2019; National High School Association Coach of the Year Award in 2020; and Des Moines Register Iowa Coach of the Year in 2018.
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