A former basketball player has sued Rutgers University, alleging that physical and psychological abuse by Coach Mike Rice left him in a “debilitating state of anxiety and fear.”
The suit, filed Dec. 6 in federal court in Trenton, appears to be the first in the wake of Rice’s resignation on April 3, a day after ESPN aired a video that showed him shoving team members, flinging basketballs at them and calling them “faggots.”
Plaintiff Derrick Randall claims he was “a highly promising young player” who was “chronically and heinously targeted and abused, both physically and psychologically.”
The “outrageous, intimidating and abusive conduct” included throwing basketballs at his head and legs, hitting, grabbing and shoving, the suit says.
Rice also allegedly engaged in “violent screaming, cursing and other humiliation tactics, including the use of homophobic slurs and other shockingly derogatory and discriminatory name calling.”
Randall claims he “lost all confidence in himself and his abilities,” impacting his ability to perform.
As a result, he “was compelled to leave Rutgers and to close the book on his dream of playing on the University’s basketball team,” resulting in lost economic opportunities and earning potential, he alleges.
At the end of the last school year, he transferred to the University of Pittsburgh, where he plays for the Panthers.
The suit names Rice, Rutgers president Robert Barchi, former athletic director Timothy Pernetti, former assistant basketball coach Jimmy Martelli, intercollegiate athletics CFO Janine Purcaro and Board of Governors chairman Robert Hershhorn.
In addition to state law claims, including assault and battery, negligent supervision, breach of fiduciary duty and infliction of emotional distress, Randall alleges the defendants violated civil rights laws because Rutgers knew he had a learning disability and promised to accommodate it, but instead failed to protect him from Rice.
“Not only did Rutgers fail to provide such accommodations, but knowing of Derrick’s disabilities and related issues, and exhibiting deliberate indifference to the impact of Coach Rice’s behavior, Defendants allowed Derrick to be subjected to the outrageous and continuous abuse perpetrated by Coach Rice,” according to the suit.
Those allegations are the basis for claims under New Jersey’s Law Against Discrimination and the federal Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Rice’s treatment of basketball team members, and Rutgers lack of response until the ESPN video aired, was the subject of extensive media coverage and cost Pernetti, Martelli and interim general counsel John Wolf their jobs.
The complaint quotes public apologies by Rice, Barchi and Pernetti, and a statement by Gov. Chris Christie calling Rice an “animal” and his treatment of the players “unacceptable” and a breach of their parents’ trust.
It includes excerpts from a Dec. 13, 2012, report done for Rutgers by Connell Foley of Roseland that substantiated complaints concerning physical abuse by Rice.
It also cites standards governing coaches’ behavior from the Rutgers Athletics Office of Compliance, the NCAA Division I Manual and the National Association of Basketball Coaches.
The suit, Randall v. Rutgers, which includes claims for punitive damages and legal fees, has been assigned to U.S. District Judge Freda Wolfson and Magistrate Judge Douglas Arpert.
Randall’s lawyer, Daniel Kokhba, of Kantor Davidoff Mandelker Twomey & Gallanty in New York, calls the suit “a very important and serious case” but declines further comment.
Rutgers spokesman E.J. Miranda says the complaint has not yet been served and Rutgers has not yet retained counsel.
Another Rutgers spokesman, Greg Trevor, says three other tort-claim notices were filed over Rice’s conduct but did not meet legal requirements, and Rutgers has asked for clarification.
He did not know the names of those claimants or why the notices were deemed insufficient.
Already pending, however, is a whistleblower suit by Eric Murdock, former director of player development, who claims he was terminated for speaking out about Rice’s antics.
It was Murdock who provided ESPN with the damning videotape, which he had sent to Rutgers in the fall of 2012 after compiling it from practice videos obtained through a records request.
Murdock sued Rutgers, Rice, Pernetti, Barchi and Barchi’s predecessor, Richard McCormick, in state court on April 5. Discovery is under way.
On Dec. 5, Rutgers asked Middlesex County Superior Court Judge Frank Ciuffani for a protective order barring the deposition of McCormick and Barchi on the basis that neither played a role in the July 2012 decision not to renew Murdock’s contact.
McCormick left by June 30, 2012, and Barchi was not sworn in until Sept. 1, 2012.
John Peirano and James Patterson of McElroy Deutsch Mulvaney & Carpenter in Morristown represent Rutgers, Barchi and McCormick in Murdock’s action, while Murdock’s lawyers are Barry Kozyra and Raj Gadhok of Kozyra & Hartz in Roseland.
In 2011, a plaintiff in an antitrust suit against Rutgers over plant patents sought Wolfson’s recusal on the ground that her close ties to the university placed her impartiality, or at least its appearance, in question.
Those ties included her own and her husband’s undergraduate and law degrees from Rutgers, and her son’s status as a Rutgers law graduate. In addition, her father-in-law, Kenneth Wolfson, served as a Rutgers professor and dean for 39 years, and a room on campus and a student prize are named after him.
The plaintiff also cited a 2009 convocation address at the law school by Wolfson in which she spoke of her links to Rutgers as “substantial and abiding.”
In refusing to disqualify herself, Wolfson distinguished between Rutgers Law School and Cook College, the part of Rutgers involved in the antitrust suit, Jersey Asparagus Farms v. Rutgers University.
The plaintiff did not appeal Wolfson’s recusal decision.