When video publicly surfaced showing Rutgers University Coach Mike Rice engaging in abusive behavior toward his players, administrators took swift action to have him fired.
But as our New York employment lawyers know, the public release of those recordings wasn’t the first that administrators had been made aware of them.
In fact, the school knew about problems with the coach since at least last year. Former nine-year National Basketball Association player Eric Murdock, who worked as the university’s director of basketball player development from 2010 to 2012, said he had informed the school’s athletic director, Tim Pernetti, about the alleged abuse on numerous occasions.
The allegations included assertions that Rice was shoving players, grabbing them, hurling basketballs at them and launching homophobic slurs at them.
Yet, Murdock says, nothing was done.
Then, Murdock handed over a video recording proving the alleged abuse to Pernetti.
Still, no action was taken against Rice.
Instead, Murdock was fired.
In the Murdock v. Rutgers et. al. civil lawsuit filed recently, Murdock noted that bullying had been a major problem on the Rutgers campus during his tenure there, most notably with the high profile incident of an incoming freshman who took his life and the life. Ultimately, a roommate was criminally prosecuted for bullying the victim on the basis of his homosexuality.
In the wake of this tragedy, the state had adopted anti-bullying laws and the school, too, had instituted a new policy that was to protect students against harassment, bullying, defamation and intimidation.
Yet somehow, the basketball coach seemed immune to the requirement to abide by these rules. Not only did Rice’s actions violate school policy, Murdock says, they broke the law. Murdock said that in all the years of his career, he had never before experienced or witnessed the kind of abuse that Rice heaped on his players.
The school, rather than punish Rice, punished Murdock – which is a form of employment retaliation.
Murdock says he was abruptly fired in the summer of 2012, after he had put university officials on notice about Rice’s actions. Murdock says the firing was initiated under the false pretense that his contract wasn’t being renewed for the following school year.
Murdock says a meeting was arranged in late November for university officials to further discuss Murdock’s allegations regarding Rice. At that time, the university was provided with the video evidence of the abusive conduct. However, Murdock said the school officials revealed at that meeting that they had known about Rice’s conduct all along, as every practice was video-recorded.
Yet, confronted with the evidence form Murdock, the school chose to suspend Rice and fine him $50,000. No investigation was carried out.
It wasn’t until that recording was made public that the university actually took action.
Now, Murdock is seeking whistleblower status. He claims that his reports of Rice’s wrongdoing were protected speech, and that the administration’s response to fire him amounts to illegal retaliation.
Whistleblower status is a very specific type of protection from retaliation that one can seek for publicly revealing misconduct, dishonesty or illegal activities in government or within a private company or organization.
If you are concerned that you may be retaliated against for speaking out for the right thing, contact our law offices today.
The Law Offices of Ira S. Newman provides employment litigation representation in New York City, Long Island, Great Neck and throughout the area. Call 516-487-7375 or send us an e-mail.
Former Employee, Who Leaked Rutgers Abuse Video, Files Whistle-Blower Lawsuit, April 5, 2013, By Eyder Peralta, NPR
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