Northwestern hazing scandal: Attorneys for ex-NU coach Pat Fitzgerald announce lawsuit

Lawsuit comes amid Northwestern football hazing allegations

Thursday, October 5, 2023
Players react after former NU Coach Fitzgerald lawsuit
Players are reacting after former NU Coach Fitgerald's lawsuit.

EVANSTON, Ill. (WLS) -- Attorneys for fired Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald announced Thursday they have filed a lawsuit against the university.

Pat Fitzgerald is suing his former employer, and his attorneys allege Northwestern University breached two legally binding contracts with the longtime coach.

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Fitzgerald was fired in July after a suspension, when disturbing allegations of hazing, racism and sexual abuse within the football program surfaced.

Fitzgerald has maintained he did not have knowledge of the alleged abuse.

Through his attorneys, he said his firing was not justified, and he is planning to ask for millions.

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"We are claiming, and we'll tell the jury, they should award damages, economic damages, just out-of-pocket economic damages, suffered by coach Fitzgerald, of approximately $130 million," attorney Dan Webb said. "However, in addition to that, there are other categories of damages that are also potentially very large and very serious that go beyond $130 million."

The 52-page lawsuit says Fitzgerald helped lead the football players to successful lives after college and helped the school with its graduation rate and alleges Northwestern University ruined his reputation.

The lawsuit also alleges that in addition to his employment contract, which had eight years left on it, Northwestern entered into a legally binding oral contract with Fitzgerald after he agreed to a two-week suspension without pay in exchange for no further action being taken against him. That contract, Webb said, was violated, when he was fired just days later, as new sordid details of the alleged hazing were published in Northwestern's student newspaper.

"They wrongfully and illegally terminated the employment of Coach Fitzgerald without any legitimate reason whatsoever," Webb said. "That whistleblower had a grudge against Northwestern and Coach Fitzgerald, and we have evidence of that. Was there any real hazing at Northwestern? I doubt it."

Webb went as far as to say that many of the allegations presented so far by football players past and present are overblown.

Several former and current Northwestern football players have been speaking out. Ten players also filed lawsuits against the school.

Former student athletes from other programs have also filed lawsuits.

Fitzgerald's lawsuit has raised eyebrows and even elicited outrage over remarks made that, despite allegations, there was no significant hazing going on inside the football team during his tenure.

"They didn't suffer from horseplay. They suffered from sexual abuse," attorney Antonio Romanucci said.

"It's not the 40 or 50 Fitz faithful buddies that Dan Webb is going to get under oath to prove it. It's the 80-plus victims and the evidence they have that I've seen," attorney Margaret Battersby Black said.

The university said in a statement, "As head coach of the football program for 17 years, Patrick Fitzgerald was responsible for the conduct of the program. He had the responsibility to know that hazing was occurring and to stop it. He failed to do so.

"As part of the six-month independent investigation, multiple current or former football student-athletes acknowledged that hazing took place within the football program. Student-athletes across a range of years corroborated these findings, showing beyond question that hazing - which included nudity and sexualized acts - took place on Fitzgerald's watch.

"Since these findings were released, numerous former student-athletes have filed lawsuits against Fitzgerald and the University related to hazing they endured while on Fitzgerald's team.

"The safety of our students remains our highest priority, and we deeply regret that any student-athletes experienced hazing. We remain confident that the University acted appropriately in terminating Fitzgerald and we will vigorously defend our position in court."