Nearly three months since the initial two-week suspension, Northwestern is still dealing with the fallout of the hazing scandal that rocked the university.
Former Northwestern football head coach Pat Fitzgerald filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the university in Cook County Court on Wednesday morning, Fitzgerald’s attorney Dan Webb announced at a press conference. Fitzgerald, who had over $42 million left on his contract at the time of his termination, was fired for cause on July 10.
In the initial filing, Fitzgerald and his legal team claim that Northwestern breached its contract with the former head coach and defamed his character. Fitzgerald is seeking over $130 million in damages.
“Mr. Fitzgerald has been subjected to unfair, arbitrary, and disgraceful conduct by both the university and its president,” Webb said in a statement. “Despite no new evidence of hazing, and despite a thorough factual investigation by Northwestern finding that Mr. Fitzgerald had no knowledge of any hazing conduct, the defendants unlawfully terminated his employment and destroyed his good name and reputation.
“The defendants’ actions have exacted terrible, measurable costs to Mr. Fitzgerald and his family. This lawsuit seeks to bring some measure of justice for our client and to hopefully dissuade the defendants from inflicting such harm on others.”
Fitzgerald was first suspended two weeks after a report produced by ArentFox Schiff’s Maggie Hickey concluded that “the investigation team did not discover sufficient evidence to believe that coaching staff knew about the ongoing hazing conduct.
“They determined, however, that there had been significant opportunities to discover and report the hazing conduct.”
However, after reports from The Daily Northwestern, Inside NU and other publications detailed sexual hazing inside the football program, NU president Michael Schill reversed the initial suspension and terminated Fitzgerald.
“The hazing we investigated was widespread and clearly not a secret within the program, providing Coach Fitzgerald with the opportunity to learn what was happening,” Schill wrote in a letter to the Northwestern community on July 10. “As much as Coach Fitzgerald has meant to our institution and our student-athletes, we have an obligation — in fact a responsibility — to live by our values, even when it means making difficult and painful decisions such as this one. We must move forward.”
In response to the lawsuit, NU spokesperson Jon Yates issued a statement on behalf of the University. He emphasized that Fitzgerald’s position as head coach made him “responsible for the conduct of the program,” and that the accounts of several student-athletes showed “beyond question that hazing — which included nudity and sexualized acts — took place on Fitzgerald’s watch.”
“The safety of our students remains our highest priority, and we deeply regret that any student-athletes experienced hazing,” Yates concluded. “We remain confident that the University acted appropriately in terminating Fitzgerald and we will vigorously defend our position in court.”
Just received a statement from Northwestern's spokesman Jon Yates in response to Pat Fitzgerald's wrongful termination lawsuit.— David Gold (@davidgoldINU) October 5, 2023
Yates says “We remain confident that the University acted appropriately in terminating Fitzgerald and we will vigorously defend our position in court.” pic.twitter.com/2vWtluITtO
Fitzgerald spent the past 17 years at the helm of the Wildcats, leading the program to two Big Ten West championships and 10 bowl appearances. His 110 wins are the most in school history. He had been on staff at Northwestern since 2001 and was a two-time All-American as a player for the ‘Cats in 1995 and 1996.