On Monday, in Bellefonte, Pa., the civil trial in which former assistant football coach Mike McQueary is seeking damages from his former employer, Penn State University, got underway.
Mike McQueary Lawsuit Against Penn State Begins
McQueary is seeking over $4 million in damages, alleging that he was mis-treated by the university and that the resulting defamation of character has prevented him from getting another coaching job since his contract was not renewed in 2012.
The lawyer for the university, Nancy Conrad, began the defense by stating that the school is not to blame for McQueary’s trouble in finding another coaching job, according to the Associated Press. Conrad pointed to McQueary’s failure to build a network of connections outside of Penn State as a reason for his failure to find another coaching job.
Conrad finished by stating that national media and public opinion have ruined McQueary. The perception is that McQueary left a boy in the shower with Jerry Sandusky, who has since been convicted of 45 counts of child sexual abuse. Sandusky is serving a term of 30-60 years in prison.
McQueary’s attorney responded by stating the allegations: When he reported seeing Sandusky and a young boy in the shower to then-head football Joe Paterno, then-athletic director Tim Curley and former university vice president Gary Schultz back in 2001, McQueary was falsely told that his report would be taken seriously.
When McQueary became a key witness to the case that ultimately convicted Sandusky in 2011, he was put on paid administrative leave and then his contract was not renewed. McQueary alleges that the non-renewal of his contract was retaliatory. He also alleges that a 2011 statement released by then-university president Graham Spanier defamed his character further.
Civil Burden of Proof
In civil trials, the burden of proof lies with the pursuant of the charges. McQueary and his counsel will have to convince a jury of three men and six women that Penn State maliciously attacked McQueary’s character out of retaliation for his cooperation with the investigation of Sandusky. They must also prove that if not for such defamation, McQueary would be coaching elsewhere today.
There are several possible outcomes to this trial, expected to last two weeks. McQueary and the university could still reach a settlement, ending the trial as soon as the agreement is made. That would address McQueary’s damages to whatever amount the settlement is agreed upon, but would likely fall short of satisfying the result of redeeming his character that McQueary is seeking.
Options for a Jury
The jury could find that Penn State did not defame McQueary, and is not liable for McQueary’s employment issues. That result would leave McQueary unlikely to ever get a coaching job in major college football again. Many schools could perceive him as an undesirable candidate with a damaged reputation.
The jury could find that Penn State did defame McQueary, but is not liable for McQueary’s employment issues. In that case, McQueary would likely be awarded some monetary damages, but probably not the full amount he is seeking. Whether or not that would actually improve his chances to land another coaching job would remain to be seen.
Finally, the jury could find Penn State culpable on both questions. With that result, again, the amount of damages awarded to McQueary would need to be determined.
McQueary’s Future Post-Trial
Even if the trial goes McQueary’s way, it’s debatable whether or not McQueary will ever get another coaching job in major college football. McQueary will forever be attached to the Sandusky tragedy, and bringing a lawsuit against his former employer hasn’t helped to remove that storyline from his past. It is unlikely he can ever truly be vindicated; even in a court of law.