Penn State has denied it fired former assistant football coach Mike McQueary over his testimony against former university officials related to their response to the Jerry Sandusky sex-abuse scandal.
In its response to McQueary’s lawsuit alleging whistleblower, defamation and negligence claims, Penn State said it ended McQueary’s employment at the end of his contract for "legitimate reasons." The university said it initially placed McQueary on administrative leave in November 2011 after threats were made against McQueary’s life.
"The university did not terminate [McQueary's] employment during the term of his contract," Penn State said in its answer and new matter. "[McQueary's] employment with the university ended effective June 30, 2012, upon expiration of a fixed term contained in the employment contract. [McQueary's] employment ended for legitimate reasons."
Penn State didn’t elaborate on what those reasons were. The university also noted it had no obligation to pay McQueary severance given it ended his employment at the end of a contract. But, according to filings by both sides, McQueary did ultimately receive some severance. McQueary alleged in his complaint, however, that his severance came later than other football coaches who were not retained by new head coach Bill O’Brien.
McQueary filed his lawsuit against Penn State in Centre County in October 2012. In the suit, he seeks $4 million, which he argued would have been his earning capacity for a career in coaching football. He is also seeking other compensatory and punitive damages.
In his defamation claim, McQueary argued that two statements made by former university president Graham Spanier as the sex-abuse scandal was breaking "clearly suggest" McQueary was lying in his accounts regarding the now-notorious "shower incident." McQueary had reported to university officials that he saw Sandusky in the shower with a young boy. In one of the statements, released on Penn State’s website, Spanier vowed his "unconditional support" to the two former administrators — now facing perjury charges — to whom McQueary reported the allegations back in 2001.
Those administrators, former athletic director Tim Curley and former vice president of business and finance Gary Schultz, await trial on perjury and failure to report sex abuse. Sandusky, a former assistant football coach, was found guilty of 45 of 48 counts related to child sex abuse and is currently serving a 30-year jail term.
In its response Tuesday, Penn State said comments by Spanier constitute opinions and do not imply any knowledge of underlying facts. The university further argued in its response that McQueary was not entitled to punitive damages, his claims for any damages are barred by his failure to mitigate those damages and that any actions by the university were not the proximate cause of any damages McQueary may have sustained. The university further argued McQueary did not suffer any emotional, psychological or physical distress as a result of any Penn State actions.
McQueary has also claimed in his complaint that Curley and Schultz misrepresented their intentions to him in 2001 by telling him they would see to it that his allegations about the shower incident would be appropriately followed.
"On the contrary, Athletics Director Curley and Senior Vice President Schultz, unbeknownst to [McQueary], had decided to pursue a course of action that would avoid an investigation by any law enforcement investigator or other trained investigator and try to keep [his] report, and the underlying incident, a secret in an effort to preserve the reputation of the defendant university."
According to the lawsuit, McQueary was the only member of former head coach Joe Paterno’s staff who was not invited to be interviewed by O’Brien. McQueary was placed on administrative leave in November even though, as the lawsuit pleads, he was "quite ready, willing and able" to coach.
McQueary also alleged he received no notice that the university was firing him. The complaint alleges McQueary learned he was officially no longer an assistant football coach at Penn State by seeing an announcement at a televised news conference last summer.
Nancy Conrad of White and Williams in Center Valley, Pa., is representing Penn State. Elliot Strokoff of Strokoff & Cowden in Harrisburg represents McQueary. Neither Conrad nor Strokoff returned calls for comment.
The day before Penn State filed its response in the McQueary suit, the judge who oversaw the grand jury that indicted Curley, Schultz and Spanier issued a ruling on motions by Curley and Schultz. Senior Judge Barry F. Feudale ruled Monday their motions to quash the presentment against them, which Feudale had denied last month, could be unsealed. He denied, however, Curley and Schultz’s motion to unseal related arguments by the Attorney General’s Office and denied Curley’s motion to unseal transcripts of the hearing on whether to quash the presentment.
"In this court’s view, defendants’ various motions, appeals and assertions (all of which are within their rights) are an attempt to delay the case from being heard before the proper tribunals," Feudale said in a footnote to his order, referring to the Dauphin County trial court to which the case has been assigned.