Judge Allows Former Northwestern Coach Pat Fitzgerald To Continue $130 Million Lost Future Employment Lawsuit


For more than a decade and a half, Pat Fitzgerald led the Northwestern Wildcats as the team’s head coach. While the program historically hasn’t been among college football’s elite, parts of Fitzgerald’s tenure, particularly in the middle of the 2010s, were some of Northwestern’s best seasons. The university even built a $270 million football facility in 2018 to help further the program’s success, and Fitzgerald was reportedly one of the highest-paid coaches in the Big Ten.

That all came to an end during the summer of 2023. On July 7, Fitzgerald was suspended for two weeks after an independent investigation confirmed November 2022 allegations of hazing. The complaint alleged that varsity players physically and sexually assaulted freshmen — including some pretty unusual lewd acts — while Fitzgerald knowingly supported the behavior, using hand gestures to confirm which players should receive the “special” treatment. Fitzgerald was fired three days later.

In October, Fitzgerald filed a lawsuit against Northwestern. He’s seeking more than $130 million in total damages — $68 million for eight years remaining on his contract and $62 million for lost future employment. The suit also lists millions of dollars in punitive damages. Northwestern asked for the case to be dismissed, but a Cook County judge denied the university’s motion for dismissal. The trial is set for April 7, 2025.

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Judge Daniel Kubasiak said Fitzgerald and his team had presented a strong enough case for the trial to proceed. The lawsuit includes claims of breach of contract, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress. Fitzgerald requested that his trial be moved up to this December, claiming that he’s unable to get another coaching job with the hazing scandal still in the public eye, though that request went unfulfilled.

Fitzgerald’s attorney, Dan Webb, doubts that any hazing actually occurred and believes the original accuser had ulterior motives in making their claims. Since Fitzgerald was fired, several former Northwestern players have also sued the university, citing negligence in allowing sexual abuse, racism, and other forms of hazing to occur.

Fitzgerald spent 17 seasons as Northwestern’s head coach, compiling a 110-101 record. Under his watch, the Wildcats reached the Big Ten title game twice — losing to the Urban Meyer and Ryan Day-led Ohio State Buckeyes — and made ten bowl game appearances, compiling a 5-5 record in those games. The program had struggled during Fitzgerald’s past couple of seasons, going a combined 4-20 in 2021 and 2022. Despite the hazing allegations looming over the school, the Wildcats finished 8-5 and ended the 2023 season with a Las Vegas Bowl victory.

Throughout the allegations, Fitzgerald has maintained he had no knowledge of the hazing. He’ll have to wait another year, but he’ll get a chance to prove his innocence.

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