Former coach sues Toronto Argonauts, QB Chad Kelly for wrongful termination, harassment

Photo courtesy: Ted Pritchard/ All rights reserved.

The Toronto Argonauts and reigning league MOP quarterback Chad Kelly are being sued by a former female strength and conditioning coach for alleged wrongful dismissal and harassment, according to TSN reporter Rick Westhead.

She was not identified in the report by Westhead in accordance with TSN policy. The lawsuit was filed on Wednesday, February 21 with the Ontario Superior Court located in Toronto. The former coach alleges Kelly repeatedly harassed her and the team fired her after she rejected his advances.

According to the lawsuit, she claims the 29-year-old QB “repeatedly sought to initiate romantic connections” with her throughout the 2022 and 2023 seasons. Despite her refusal to go out with him, Kelly allegedly escalated his harassment and publicly accused her of being romantically involved with another team member while on the team bus on Sunday, November 5, 2023.

The plaintiff stated she privately confronted Kelly about the incident the following day and he allegedly responded with aggression. An hour later, she claims he yelled derogatory remarks at her while she ate breakfast with a group of eight others, including her direct supervisor Usama Mujtaba. At this point, she informed Mujtaba and assistant general manager John Murphy about the prior interaction. Murphy allegedly stated she “opened a can of worms that didn’t need to be opened.”

Murphy was reinstated to work in the CFL with the Argos last season after serving an indefinite suspension from the league for a physical altercation with a fan following the 2021 Eastern Final.

The coach claims she was asked to go home after the incident and she was told on Saturday, November 10 that Kelly made threatening remarks about her, “suggesting she was fortunate he hadn’t physically harmed her.” She alleges the team took no further action to address the harassment until she was informed on Monday, January 29 that her contract would not be renewed after being with the team since 2018.

The plaintiff seeks $50,000 from Kelly for alleged Ontario Human Rights Code violations and an additional $295,603 from the Argos for wrongful dismissal. She also claims the Argonauts breached the CFL’s violence against women policy by not submitting a critical incident report to the league’s head office.

The allegations have not yet been proven in court. Kelly has not yet issued a response, but the Argonauts provided 3DownNation with the following statement.

“The club is aware of a legal claim made by a former employee against the team and Mr. Kelly. The organization will not comment on private personnel matters or ongoing litigation but is steadfast in its commitment to providing a safe and inclusive work environment.”

The events of the lawsuit took place in the lead-up to the Eastern Final, which was played on November 11. Kelly struggled in a 38-17 loss to the Montreal Alouettes, throwing four interceptions. He later attributed his poor performance to the effects of a concussion suffered earlier in the game.

The CFL has taken a hardline stance on violence or harassment of women in recent years, barring several players from the league in light of accusations even when criminal charges were not laid. The league issued the following statement on the situation to 3DownNation on Thursday night.

“The league is aware of the legal claim that has been made by a former employee against the Toronto Argonauts and Mr. Kelly. The League is currently reviewing this matter but has no further comment at this time.”

Kelly joined the Argos for the 2022 season and came off the bench to lead the team to victory in the 109th Grey Cup. He took over the starting job this past year and posted a 15-1 win-loss record while throwing for 4,123 yards with 23 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He carried the ball 41 times for 248 yards and eight touchdowns. During the CFL Awards in November, he was named the league’s Most Outstanding Player.

The Buffalo, NY native signed a three-year contract extension with the Argonauts in August which makes him the CFL’s highest-paid player in 2024 at $615,000 with $625,000 in hard money for each of the last two seasons.

Kelly was a highly-touted quarterback prospect coming out of the University of Mississippi but has had off-the-field issues throughout his career. He was dismissed from Clemson University’s football team following his freshman year for conduct detrimental to the team. The six-foot-two, 216-pound QB was arrested for an altercation outside a New York nightclub in December 2014. In October 2018, he was arrested for criminal trespassing while a member of the Denver Broncos, which led to his release from the team.

Editor’s note: This story originally stated that the plaintiff was seeking $85,714 from the Argonauts. TSN’s Rick Westhead has since acknowledged that number as an error in his original report and the story has been updated to reflect the correct amount.