Rutgers Basketball Scandal: Is Fallout Over or Just Beginning?

Weeks after ESPN first aired footage of Mike Rice berating and physically assaulting his players, the Rutgers University basketball scandal continues to generate headlines. At this point, it is unclear whether the legal fallout for Rutgers is finally over or just beginning.

To date, nearly everyone who has seen the video has come out strongly against it, from NJ Gov. Chris Christie to NBA star LeBron James. Amid the backlash, Rutgers fired Rice, and athletic director Tim Pernetti resigned. In his resignation letter, Pernetti maintained that his first inclination was to fire Rice, but the school’s legal counsel advised him that termination was not warranted.

Rutgers University President Robert Barchi has largely escaped criticism because he only recently saw the video and approved Rice’s suspension based solely on Pernetti’s description of the video’s contents. But state leaders are calling for the resignation or removal of at least one member of the board of governors; Mark Hershhorn, chairman of the athletics committee, who viewed the video in December but did raise the matter before the board.

In addition to the hunt for people with knowledge of Mike Rice’s conduct and the inquisition about “what did you know and when did you know it,” the University has other legal problems including a NJ retaliation lawsuit by former Director of Player Development Eric Murdock, who blew the whistle on Mike Rice’s coaching style. Murdock alleges that he was wrongfully terminated after he complained about Rice’s behavior in July and later provided the now infamous video footage in November. Rutgers maintains that it decided not to renew Murdock’s contract based on work performance issues.

In order to prove retaliation, an employee must show a causal connection between the employer’s adverse employment action (termination, demotion, etc.) and the employee’s complaint of impropriety or illegality. Thus, the success of Murdock’s lawsuit will likely hinge on whether he can prove that he complained about Rice’s coaching tactics prior to being let go by the university.

Donald Scarinci is a managing partner at Lyndhurst, N.J. based law firm Scarinci Hollenbeck.  He is also the editor of the Constitutional Law Reporter and Government and Law blogs.

 

Rutgers Basketball Scandal: Is Fallout Over or Just Beginning?