Former St. John’s assistant coach Steve DeMeo filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against the university and head coach Mike Anderson alleging he was wrongfully terminated because of a health condition as well as making additional allegations about strife inside the men's basketball program.
According to the complaint filed by Wigdor LLP and obtained by Sports Illustrated, Anderson is accused of firing DeMeo after he disclosed ongoing medical conditions that would require additional accommodations, such as time to attend further appointments and procedures. DeMeo has a heart condition called mitral valve prolapse that required surgery in August 2020 to correct an irregular heartbeat, as well as a mass on his left vocal cord that was removed surgically. The surgeries forced DeMeo to spend almost two weeks in the hospital and more time at home recovering. DeMeo also needed procedures following the 2020–21 season.
“There were still procedures that needed to be done. I got the sense that when I told [Anderson] that, things went south,” DeMeo tells SI. “He didn’t want to accommodate me, it didn’t sound like.”
The suit also details a problematic culture inside the Red Storm program during the 2020–21 season under Anderson, alleging disputes between players and the coaching staff as well as lax enforcement of COVID-19 safety protocols. Seven scholarship players from the 2020–21 team transferred out of the program following the season.
“Mr. Anderson lost control of the team and the players nearly revolted against him before the end of the season,” the filing states. “Mr. DeMeo helped hold the team together.”
In a statement to the New York Post, St. John's said the university and Anderson "categorically deny Steve DeMeo’s allegations of wrongdoing, but cannot otherwise comment on pending litigation.”
Detailed in the suit is a heated exchange from a March 6 game against Seton Hall when Anderson, angry with junior Isaih Moore’s shot selection, allegedly kicked Moore off the team during halftime in front of the rest of the roster, against the advice of his assistant coaches, including DeMeo. The suit states that in response, the St. John’s players “banded together” to say they wouldn’t play in the second half in protest. Anderson, partially on DeMeo’s urging, allowed Moore to return to the team. St. John’s went on to win the game, 81–71, but Moore didn’t play in the second half.
According to the complaint, two days later, Anderson once again attempted to kick Moore off the team, and the team refused to practice in response. Once again, Moore was reinstated. Moore, who was recruited by DeMeo to St. John’s out of junior college, entered the transfer portal following the season and has since enrolled at Southern Miss.
“I don’t think our head coach built a relationship up with Isaih [Moore] as much as he could have,” DeMeo says. “If he did that, I think it would have been a different outcome.”
The filing also states that St. John's decision not to play in the NIT because of the demands of COVID-19 protocols was a “false excuse to protect Mr. Anderson” because “the team simply did not want to play for him anymore.”
The problems between Anderson and DeMeo, according to the lawsuit and an interview with SI, began shortly after the season ended at a performance review meeting in May. In the meeting, DeMeo told Anderson that he’d likely need additional time off due to upcoming medical procedures. The suit states that Anderson responded by rolling his eyes and saying “Well, you have a job to do; you have to do it.” The meeting ended shortly thereafter.
DeMeo was then terminated “abruptly” on June 8, the month following the initial performance review, according to the complaint.
“It was only after Mr. DeMeo discussed his ongoing medical condition with Mr. Anderson and his need for additional medical procedures going forward that Mr. Anderson chose to terminate employment,” the suit states. “By waiting until June, Mr. Anderson minimized Mr. DeMeo’s opportunities to find suitable alternate employment for the 2021–22 season.”
“I thought we were supposed to be a family,” DeMeo says. “[Anderson] preaches family all the time, togetherness, supporting each other in hard times and all that stuff, and that’s kind of why I feel sick to my stomach about this whole thing.”
DeMeo has since been hired as an assistant coach at East Carolina University.
“I’m not a litigious person,” DeMeo says. “There has been a lot of pressure on me just to move forward, but I feel like I have to do it and they can’t be allowed to treat people this way.”