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Football: Haywood files suit against Pitt

Lauren Kirschman | September 20, 2011    

Former Pitt football coach Michael Haywood filed suit against Pitt in federal court on Monday,… Former Pitt football coach Michael Haywood filed suit against Pitt in federal court on Monday, seeking millions of dollars in damages from the University.

The complaint said that the University breached its contract with Haywood and violated federal law when the school fired him in January.

Pitt “rushed to judgment and fired the coach hours after a disputed domestic incident in South Bend, Ind.,” the complaint in the suit states, adding that University officials didn’t listen when Haywood attempted to refute the allegations.

Pitt spokesman John Fedele declined comment, saying the University does not comment on pending litigation. Pitt Athletics spokesman E.J. Borghetti also declined comment.

On Dec. 31, 2010, less than two weeks after he was hired, police arrested Haywood in South Bend, Ind., on charges of domestic abuse against the mother of his child. Pitt fired Haywood on Jan. 1.

A news release from Buzbee Law Firm said on June 28 that soon after the domestic abuse allegation, the mother of Haywood’s child filed papers saying that Haywood didn’t pose a danger to her or their then 21-month-old child and that “the submitted paperwork also raised questions about the accuracy of the police report.”

The lawsuit asserts that Pitt didn’t live up to the agreement to buy out Haywood’s $300,000 contract with Miami University of Ohio.

Haywood would have received up to $7.5 million plus incentives from the contract with Pitt, the release states, and he is looking for at least $3.75 million in damages. According to the release, Haywood’s contract entitled him to $750,000 for each year remaining on the contract if the University fired him “without just cause.”

Tony Buzbee, Haywood’s attorney, said Monday that his client will seek the liquidated damages from the contract, the buyout money and the amount Pitt owes if the court finds that the University fired Haywood without just cause.

The release said Haywood would also seek exemplary damages, attorneys’ fees and court costs.

Buzbee said that they “bent over backwards” in attempt to reach an agreement with Pitt. The attorney also said he and Haywood met with Pitt officials in a meeting at which Pitt officials admitted that the institution had promised to pay Haywood’s buyout.

“Mr. Haywood said that if they paid the buyout, he would drop the whole thing,” Buzbee said. “And they wouldn’t do that.”

He described the attitude of Pitt officials as “flippant” and added that the meeting was a wasted trip, saying that Pitt didn’t gather any of the information it was supposed to.

Buzbee said several letters exchanged with the University proved unsuccessful in helping the situation and that Haywood decided not to drop the issue.

“We did everything we could to avoid this lawsuit,” Buzbee said.

The announcement of the lawsuit comes nearly a month after the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission opened an official investigation into a complaint filed by Haywood. Buzbee said the lawsuit doesn’t concern the PHRC or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The complaint filed with PHRC alleged a racial motivation for Haywood’s firing, although in July Buzbee said that the primary issue into the investigation was Haywood’s termination without due process.

Haywood filed the complaint with the PHRC on Aug. 1. PHRC spokeswoman Shannon Powers said on Aug. 16 that since the PHRC opened the official investigation, that public information is limited to the complaint from Haywood.

At the conclusion of the investigation, which could take up to a year, the PHRC would reach one of two findings: probable cause or no probable cause.

If there is probable cause of discrimination, Powers said there would be one last effort to settle and then the case would proceed to a public hearing. If there is no probable cause, the filing party is notified and has 10 days to put forth further information.

The new information is reviewed in a preliminary hearing and if no cause is found, the party is informed of his right to file the case in court.

Under state law, the party must allow PHRC one year to investigate the claim. If the case is still open after one year, the party is notified so that he can file a case in the court of common pleas.

At a court hearing on Feb. 11, Haywood entered a court diversion program in Indiana, which requires 60 hours of community service and a psychological evaluation. If he completes the deal, the charges will be dismissed in one year.

Court documents said that during the hearing, Haywood admitted to touching the mother of his child in a “rude, insolent or angry manner” and said she suffered an injury after falling.

Buzbee and Christopher Johns of the Buzbee Law Firm in Houston and Rolf Patberg of Patberg, Carmody & Ging, Attorneys at Law, in Pittsburgh represent Haywood.

“We allege Pitt officials ignored their contractual obligations and terminated Mr. Haywood in violation of his Constitutional rights before he could refute the abuse allegations,” Buzbee said in a release from the Buzbee Law Firm on Monday. “No one in the Pitt administration or athletics department bothered to adequately investigate the situation or speak with Mr. Haywood directly. Had they done so, they would have quickly determined that Mr. Haywood’s employment should not have been terminated.”

In the release, Haywood said that the initial allegations were complete false.

“In the midst of an argument with my son’s mother, I acted to defensively protect my son and did nothing violent,” he said. “This lawsuit is intended to set the record straight and help restore my career and reputation.”

Editor’s note: Check out the complaint that Haywood’s attorney filed here.

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