Caden Cox made history in 2021 during his time as a student athlete at Hocking College as the first known player with Down syndrome to play in and score during 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, the lawsuit says – and when the behavior was reported to school administrators, he was retaliated against, he says.
Cox was both a student athlete and an employee at the student recreation center at the two-year public school in Nelsonville, Ohio, when his supervisor, Matthew Kmosko, consistently made abusive, derogatory and inappropriate comments to Cox in the form of derogatory slurs 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 through it without permission, according to the suit.
CNN has reached out to Kmosko and his attorney, as well as Cox’s parents and attorney.
The lawsuit, which was filed Thursday, names the college’s board of trustees, its president, Betty Young, Kmosko and unnamed Hocking employees as defendants. It alleges Cox was discriminated against because of his disability, violating the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and state anti-discrimination law.
Hocking College and its board will cooperate with officials on the investigation, the college told CNN in a statement Monday, but will not comment on active or pending litigation.
“Hocking College is and always will be committed to moving the college mission forward by continuing to train to meet the workforce needs of our communities and to promote student success and economic development within our region,” the statement said.
Kmosko was hired by Hocking College as a coordinator of the student center and campus recreation, and as a soccer coach in July 2021, according to the lawsuit.
The lawsuit alleges abuse by Kmosko 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 into the men’s bathroom to change the garbage bags when Kmosko followed him, physically blocked the exit and yelled at Cox about changing the trash while pointing a black-handled, silver knife at his chest, the suit said.
College surveillance camera footage captured Kmosko walking in and out of the bathroom carrying the weapon, the suit said, and Kmosko was charged and found guilty of a misdemeanor charge in Athens County Municipal Court.
Kmosko had been recommended for hire by Young, the college president, at the word of an unknown Hocking College Board of Trustees member and no background check was completed, the suit said. It alleges Young denied 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 were given complaints, in writing, of Kmosko’s behavior, according to the lawsuit:
- In July 2021, Cox’s mother, Mari Cox, who works at the school, hand-delivered a written complaint about Kmosko’s behavior to the Hocking College Human Resources Department, the lawsuit said.
- On January 10, 2022, Mari Cox emailed another complaint requesting her son be given a different supervisor for some of the same reasons listed in the first complaint, the suit stated.
Kmosko, who resigned from the college after the knife incident, was charged in July 2022 with aggravated menacing, a misdemeanor, in connection with the incident, criminal records show. An Athens County jury found him guilty of menacing in January and he was sentenced to 30 days in jail, records show.
Court records show Kmosko is appealing the conviction. His lawyer 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, Scholar Athlete Award and Hocking College Trustee Award, according to the lawsuit.
Cox’s name was listed as the recipient of all three awards in the program that was submitted to the printing company, the suit 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 about 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 set up for graduation when he realized the programs omitted his son’s name as the recipient of two of the three awards he was originally slated to receive, the suit said. The lawsuit states there was no policy in place that students receive only one award.
Cox talked to the assistant to the vice president, who said the vice president of student affairs asked her to call the printing company and make a change, the suit said.
Cox participated in graduation and was awarded the Inspirational Award, but not the two others, according to the suit.
The lawsuit asks for a jury trial and seeks punitive and compensatory damages. It asks the university to set up and follow policies to protect students from harassment, abuse and discrimination.
After graduating, Cox did a football-related internship at Texas A&M University, where his older brother works as a strength coach, his lawyer, Mark Weiker, told The Washington Post. This June, he has plans to go to orientation at an Ohio State University program for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.