Whistleblower sues Rutgers in abusive coach case
EAST HANOVER, N.J. (AP) — A former Rutgers University employee who made public the video that led to the basketball coach’s dismissal and the athletic director’s resignation has filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the university.
Eric Murdock filed the lawsuit Friday in state court, accusing the university of violating the state’s employee protection act and his contract and of retaliating against him for complaining about the mistreatment of players.
“Efforts to get Rutgers to address their problems were ignored for months,” Murdock said at a news conference in a banquet facility. “Instead I was removed from my position. That is wrong and why I filed a lawsuit.”
Murdock said his lawyer wrote to the university about coach Mike Rice’s “unlawful conduct” in July and gave the university video in November showing Rice pushing players, throwing basketballs at them and berating them with invectives, including gay slurs.
“Despite having been in possession of such video footage, the university and its representatives inexplicably chose to ignore Defendant Rice’s unlawful conduct,” the lawsuit said.
The public airing of the videos this week led to Rice’s firing and the resignation of athletic director Tim Pernetti.
The school, Rice, Pernetti, university President Robert L. Barchi and former President Richard L. McCormick were all named as defendants in the lawsuit.
Rutgers officials declined to comment about the lawsuit. When asked about it at a news conference Friday to discuss Pernetti’s resignation, Barchi said, “It is an ongoing legal situation, and it is something that I simply cannot comment on.”
Murdock’s lawyer, Barry Kozyra, said the lawsuit raises questions about why Rutgers did not discover what was happening in practices sooner.
“If Mr. Murdock never stepped forward and lost his job would this still be going on?” Kozyra asked.
Murdock, who played in the NBA for nine seasons, was the director of player of development for the program. His contract wasn’t renewed in July.
He said he was let go after a dispute with Rice about missing about 35 minutes of the coach’s youth basketball camp.
“It’s an unusual response from Rutgers because it had nothing to do with his position at Rutgers University,” said Kozyra, a Rutgers law school graduate who had an alumni button pinned to his lapel.
Murdock claims the school violated state anti-bullying law and a Rutgers policy put in place after the September 2010 suicide of student Tyler Clementi, who killed himself after learning that his roommate had used a webcam to watch him kiss another man.
“Despite their obligations under New Jersey law and the university’s own policy, neither the presidents of the university, the athletic director nor any other university representatives took any steps to assure that the rights of the student-athlete members of the men’s basketball program were protected from assault (both physical and verbal), battery, harassment, intimidation, bullying, defamation and other unlawful conduct,” the lawsuit states.
Kozyra said he, Murdock and his law partners showed the video to Pernetti, his lawyer and two of Pernetti’s subordinates in an hour-long meeting in November. Kozyra said the 40-minute DVD they aired was edited down from hundreds of hours of tape. Kozyra said the meeting was in the same room where the school, days before, announced it was moving to the Big Ten.
Murdock’s lawsuit accuses the university of six counts of wrongdoing, including breach of contract and a hostile work environment. The lawsuit did not specify damages.
Kozyra would not comment on reports that Murdock was willing to settle with the university for $950,000. He said Murdock didn’t file the lawsuit for money.
“Mr. Murdock acted without any motivation for money when he brought this to them in 2012,” Kozyra said.
A report by John Lacey, a lawyer hired by Rutgers last year to investigate Murdock’s complaints, concluded that Rice sometimes behaved inappropriately, but that many of the video clips were taken out of out of context and did not create a hostile work environment or constitute harassment or bullying.
Lacey’s report was also critical of Murdock, finding that Rice had not actually fired him and that he had not given evidence to support the claims that he and others had paid players in violation of NCAA rules.
Associated Press writer Geoff Mulvihill contributed to this report from New Brunswick.
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