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 by his mother, Mari Cox, on Thursday, Mr. Cox accused a former supervisor at the student recreation center where Mr. Cox worked of “disability discrimination, physical assault, and persistent verbal harassment.”
Mr. Cox burst onto the national sports scene in the fall of 2021, after kicking a third-quarter field goal and went on to kick three more that season, earning a feature on ESPN. Months later, he created a clothing collection with the brand Jake Max, featuring the school’s colors.
“They said he couldn’t even go to college and look 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 suit alleges he was harassed and assaulted by his boss. His supervisor, Matthew Kmosko, is among the defendants named in the suit, along with Betty Young, the school president, the board of trustees and five unnamed college employees.
Mr. Kmosko, who resigned, was found guilty in January of menacing Mr. Cox and sentenced to 30 days in prison.
The college and the board of trustees said in an emailed statement that they would not comment on active investigations or pending litigations, but “will cooperate with officials.”
Dr. Young also declined to comment on the suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for Southern Ohio. “I am happy Hocking College could provide an opportunity for Caden to be a successful student and student-athlete and now a graduate,” she said in an email, adding that the school “remains committed to all our students.”
Mr. Kmosko repeatedly used “derogatory slurs about individuals with Down syndrome,” degraded Mr. Cox’s abilities, once demanded to go through his phone and put his hand on Mr. Cox inappropriately, the suit claimed, 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 suit said, culminating with Mr. Kmosko following Mr. Cox into a bathroom and threatening him with a knife.
Mr. Cox was granted a protection order against Mr. Kmosko in May 2022, but the harassment left him with anxiety that limited his ability to go to campus, the suit said, and he would become upset every time he saw a red car similar to Mr. Kmosko’s.
The lawsuit blames “the deliberate indifference of Dr. Y-oung and other Hocking personnel” for the trauma Mr. Cox incurred from Mr. Kmosko, for which he is seeking compensatory and punitive damages.
It also accuses the college of retaliation, saying it denied Mr. Cox two graduation awards he had been promised after lawyers representing the Cox family delivered a letter to the school administration in early December detailing their allegations.
After graduating from Hocking College last year, Mr. Cox participated 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 college has been a major 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 went nowhere,” Ms. Cox wrote. “We really hope this leads to a change in how harassment is addressed for all vulnerable students at the school.”