Rutgers whistle-blower files wrongful termination lawsuit

Basketball fans and non-basketball fans alike in Wisconsin heard this week that Rutgers University fired its basketball coach, Mike Rice, after a video surfaced showing the coach mistreating players.

It has now emerged that the team’s former director of player development, who leaked the video to the media, had reported Rice’s unlawful conduct to university officials as early as July. The university reportedly did not address the issue at that time, and soon after decided not to renew the whistle-blower’s contract. He has now filed a whistle-blower lawsuit against the university.

Under federal employment law, employers may not retaliate against those who report wrongful or unlawful activity in the workplace. Unfortunately, employers often do still retaliate against whistle-blowers, but when they do the whistle-blower can pursue legal recourse.

Many states, including New Jersey, the home of Rutgers University, also have state whistle-blower protections. This whistle-blower lawsuit has been filed under the state employee protection act as well as the man’s employment contract.

The man said that he told the university about Rice’s conduct in July, and presented a video in November that showed the coach throwing basketballs at players, pushing them and verbally attacking them with gay slurs.

The university apparently did nothing in response to the report, but when the videos were released to the media and aired this week, Rice was fired and the athletic director resigned.

The whistle-blower lawsuit accuses Rutgers of six counts of wrongdoing, including hostile work environment and breach of contract. While it does not specify damages, whistle-blower employment lawsuits often result in compensation for lost wages and benefits. In some cases, punitive damages may also be awarded.

Source: The Daily Journal, “Rutgers whistle-blower sues,” April 5, 2013

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