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Judge denies Northwestern motion to drop Pat Fitzgerald case

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Northwestern‘s motion to dismiss the $130 million wrongful termination lawsuit filed by former coach Pat Fitzgerald was denied Tuesday, setting up a potential trial in April 2025.

Cook County Circuit Court judge Daniel Kubasiak ruled that the case from Fitzgerald can proceed and set a trial date for April 7, 2025. Northwestern fired Fitzgerald in July, just three days after imposing a two-week, unpaid suspension for the coach, following the conclusion of an investigation into hazing claims within the football program.

Fitzgerald, a two-time national defensive player of the year at Northwestern, had coached at his alma mater since 2006.

“This matter is, in its simplest form, an employer-employee debate,” Kubasiak wrote in his opinion Tuesday. “As Fitzgerald argues, and as the Court agrees, in every contract there is an implied doctrine of good faith and fair dealing, and that is yet to be determined in this matter.”

Fitzgerald filed his lawsuit in October, claiming that Northwestern violated a verbal contract by firing him for cause, after agreeing to the suspension following the conclusion of its own investigation. He also claimed Northwestern and university president Michael Schill violated his written contract. Fitzgerald is seeking 68 million that remained on his contract, which ran through 2030, as well as future earnings losses of approximately $62 million.

“Because the entire motion to dismiss was denied today, our plan is clear and straightforward – we are going to move this case forward and expeditiously to trial, which is set for April 7, 2025,” Fitzgerald’s attorneys, Dan Webb and Matthew Carter, said in a statement. “We will take all steps necessary to pursue Coach Fitzgerald’s serious claims and to protect his rights, name, and reputation.”

At a February hearing, Fitzgerald’s attorneys had pushed for a December trial, arguing that it would allow him to avoid missing a third season of coaching at the college or pro level. Northwestern attorney Reid Schar said then that while the 2025 date is “aggressive,” it’s more achievable than December, citing a large number of discovery documents that likely could only be reviewed by the end of June. Kubasiak, at the same hearing, encouraged both sides to settle the case.

After receiving a complaint about hazing within the program in November 2022, the university launched an investigation in January 2023, led by attorney Maggie Hickey. The probe found that while claims of hazing from a former player were largely corroborated, there was not sufficient evidence that Fitzgerald and other coaches and staff had knowledge of the incidents. But Northwestern attorney Reid Schar argued at the February hearing that additional allegations of hazing from former Northwestern players prompted Schill’s decision to fire Fitzgerald.

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