Former Northwestern football coach Pat Fitzgerald, university president Michael Schill and athletic director Derrick Gragg are listed as defendants in a lawsuit filed Tuesday morning by a former Wildcats player who said the program and its leaders acted negligently by they would have allowed harassment in the team’s dressing room.
The lawsuit also names the university, its Board of Trustees and former President Morton Schapiro as defendants. The player filed the lawsuit anonymously, but the lawsuit states he was a member of the team from 2018 to 2022. His attorneys, Patrick Salvi and Parker Stinar, said they have spoken to other former Northwestern players and expect more soccer players and Northwestern athletes from other sports to join the lawsuit in the coming days and weeks.
Stinar said he and Salvi represent numerous football players from the Northwest and have spoken to about a dozen athletes who have attended the school over the past 15 years. He said the player who filed the lawsuit Tuesday had been subjected to harassment that included sexualized acts and racial discrimination.
In addition to adding complainants in the near future, Stinar and Salvi told ESPN they might also add defendants as they learn more details about the case — including current ACC Commissioner Jim Phillips, who worked most of the time as Northwestern’s athletic director alleged harassment has taken place.
“It seems like the entire athletic department has been culturally charged in a way that includes bullying, sexual harassment, [and] Racial discrimination,” Stinar said.
Tuesday’s filing comes a day after a separate group of eight former Northwestern players announced they intended to take legal action against the school. These athletes are represented by civil rights attorney Ben Crump and Chicago-based law firm Levin & Perconti. They haven’t filed a lawsuit yet, but plan to do so, likely with additional plaintiffs, attorney Steve Levin told ESPN.
The lawsuit, filed Tuesday, alleges that Fitzgerald “has engaged in harassment, bullying, intimidation, physical harm and/or abuse of athletes,” including the plaintiff.
Fitzgerald has repeatedly stated that he is not aware of, and does not advocate, harassment within the program. The university said it would not comment on pending litigation.
“Protecting the well-being of every student at Northwestern University is central to our mission and something we approach with the utmost seriousness,” the school said in a statement. “When anonymous harassment complaints were brought to the attention of the university in November 2022, we immediately worked with an independent investigator to conduct a comprehensive review of the allegations. We have taken a number of subsequent measures to eliminate harassment from our football program and we will continue to implement further measures in the coming weeks. The administration is committed to working with the board of trustees, faculty and student body to ensure there is no place for bullying at Northwestern.”
Northwestern fired Fitzgerald last week, ending his 17-year tenure as head coach after a July 8 article in student newspaper The Daily Northwestern revealed details of bullying rituals at the team. Last December, the university hired law firm ArentFox Schiff to investigate the football program after a player raised concerns at the end of the 2022 season. The player said he wanted to report “an extremely worrying and heinous situation of bullying,” according to an email he sent to the school and ESPN received recently.
On July 7, Northwestern released a summary of the investigation findings and suspended Fitzgerald for two weeks without pay as part of multiple corrective actions. Schill announced the next day that he would consider increased discipline for Fitzgerald.
On July 10, Schill released a letter announcing Fitzgerald’s firing. In it, he revealed that 11 current or former players told investigators at ArentFox Schiff that harassment, which included “forced participation, nudity and sexualized acts of a degrading nature,” occurred on the football show. He said investigators found no credible evidence that Fitzgerald knew about the bullying.
Fitzgerald has retained an attorney for a possible wrongful termination lawsuit against the school.
Gragg, who took over as Northwestern’s athletic director in June 2021, has not made any public comments since Fitzgerald was fired. When Fitzgerald was initially suspended on July 7, he released a statement that said, “Northwestern Athletics prides itself on providing a premium student-athlete experience that provides a safe and respectful environment for all of our students, coaches and… employees included. We.” Respect the courage of those who came forward to bring the issue to our attention, and we vow to do our part to create a more positive environment going forward.
Northwestern has not released a copy of the full investigator’s report to the public. Stinar said he anticipates a lawsuit to decide whether the school, a private university, must disclose the report’s findings during the disclosure of its lawsuit.
According to Tuesday’s lawsuit, the plaintiff will seek more than $50,000 in damages.