Commack girls varsity basketball head coach Denis Conroy speaks to...

Commack girls varsity basketball head coach Denis Conroy speaks to his team during a timeout in the second half of the game at Stony Brook University on Feb. 21, 2016. Conroy's lawyer says he was fired in June 2019 over his weight. Credit: Joseph D. Sullivan

A former Commack varsity girls’ basketball coach has sued the school district, alleging that officials fired him because he was overweight.

The lawsuit said that coach Denis Conroy faced "severe and lasting embarrassment, humiliation, mental and physical anguish," as well as "substantial" earnings loss because of diminished pension benefits after district administrators told him he was fired in a June 2019 meeting.

The complaint, filed Dec. 20 in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, alleges the district violated the Americans with Disabilities Act and New York State Human Rights Law. Conroy, who was paid a little more than $10,000 per year as coach, according to the bargaining agreement between the district and the Commack teacher’s union, is asking for at least $150,000 in damages. He also wants to be reinstated as coach, his lawyer, Bohemia-based Saul Zabell told Newsday in a phone interview.

Conroy’s weight interfered with his movement and kept him from traveling on the team bus to away games, according to the complaint and Zabell. The coach used his own vehicle to get to those games, Zabell said.

Conroy, who still teaches in the Commack High School social studies department, came to the district in 1994 and started coaching the varsity team in 2005. Samantha Prahalis, who went on to WNBA fame, was one of his early stars. He led Commack teams to six Suffolk County and Long Island titles between 2015 and 2018, according to a Newsday database, and was named Newsday’s Coach of the Year in 2013 and 2015. The team finished 12-9 in the 2018-2019 school year. Before Commack, Conroy coached at Queens College in Flushing and at St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington, according to his LinkedIn page.

According to the suit, in April 2019, athletic director Patrick Friel gave Conroy an evaluation rating him as "highly effective" in his relationships with players and parents. The review made no mention of complaints over Conroy’s coaching.

But after the June meeting with Friel and Leslie Boritz, then the high school principal, the district claimed it received "a number of phone calls" complaining about Conroy. The district’s stated reasons for firing him were "contextualized, false, and/or pretextual and meant to discriminate" against Conroy because of his weight, according to the suit. Actions by district officials "indicated to (Conroy) that they were trying to make his life more difficult regarding certain informal accommodations made for his weight, such as allowing him to park close to the building," Zabell said. The district did not specify the nature of the complaints against Conroy, Zabell said.

A district spokeswoman said she would not comment on pending litigation. Lawyers for Lamb & Barnosky, the Melville law firm representing the district, declined to comment Monday. Friel and Boritz, also named in the complaint as defendants, did not respond to requests for comment. Conroy did not make himself available for an interview.

"Denis is a large man but he coached well," Zabell said. "His teams were successful. It was never an issue — then, all of a sudden, they were unhappy with seeing a large man coaching … It is disappointing that, in this day and age, schools feel absolutely comfortable discriminating against those they perceive to be disabled."

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