CHICAGO — Attorneys for former Northwestern University football coach Pat Fitzgerald have filed a multi-million dollar lawsuit against the school after his firing in July.
The lawsuit, which was announced at Winston & Strawn LLP in downtown Chicago Thursday morning, claims that he was wrongfully and “illegally” terminated as head coach and will seek economic damages of $130 million.
Attorney Dan Webb, representing Fitzgerald, said the amount of money is for what was left on his contract at Northwestern and the fact that the coach can never work again at this level. He also said that they will seek punitive damage as well.
During his news conference, Webb also believed that the hazing allegations were “exaggerated” and that the anonymous whistleblower had a grudge against Fitzgerald.
The former coach was not in attendance at the news conference at Winston & Strawn LLP.
At 3 p.m. on Thursday, attorneys representing athletes who’ve filed suit against Northwestern University alleging hazing in their time at the school held a fiery news conference in response. Steven M. Levin & Margaret Battersby Black of Levin & Perconti along with Antonio M. Romanucci of Romanucci & Blandin responded not only to the lawsuit but to the words of Webb as well.
“It was so hard for many of them to come forward for this exact reason because they’re afraid that some corporate lawyer is going to come out and make these allegations against them,” said Levin. “We’re not unaware that sometimes people in the public feel that people file opportunistic lawsuits, but not this lawsuit.”
Fitzgerald was fired after an investigation into hazing allegations in the football program, even though it found he did not play a role. Initially, he was suspended for two weeks after the initial investigation into hazing by former Illinois inspector general Maggie Hickey.
Webb said in his news conference said that the university told Fitzgerald that he wouldn’t be punished after the initial suspension.
When more details on the alleged hazing were made public, Northwestern president Michael Schill decided to terminate Fitzgerald on July 10.
After today’s lawsuit, Northwestern University released this 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.
WGN News Now carried live coverage of the news conference by Dan Webb this morning, which you can watch in the video below.