Pitt suing former football coach Michael Haywood

By Andrew Shull

While Michael Haywood only served as head coach of Pitt’s football team for less than three… While Michael Haywood only served as head coach of Pitt’s football team for less than three weeks more than one year ago, the legal drama surrounding his termination appears far from over.

Pitt filed a counterclaim against Haywood on Oct. 14, 2011, citing violation of a confidentiality clause that was supposed to outlive the term of his contract.

The University hired Haywood Dec. 15, 2010, and then fired him Jan. 1, 2011, after he was arrested on charges of domestic abuse against the mother of his child in South Bend, Ind.

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 program, the charges will be dismissed in one year.

Haywood first sued the University in September, claiming that the University owed him $3.75 million in damages, in addition to “attorney’s fees, court costs, mental anguish, pre-judgement and post-judgement interest, exemplary damages [and] all other costs to which he is entitled,” according to the suit.

University spokesman John Fedele declined comment on Pitt’s suit and said the University does not comment on pending litigation.

Pitt’s countersuit alleges that Haywood violated the terms of his contract by disclosing details of his contract that were supposed to be confidential. The University is alleging that Haywood and his attorneys released details of the contract to the media following his termination.

University officials did not name a specific figure that they think the school is entitled to or what it is they are seeking in the suit.

Tony Buzbee, Haywood’s attorney, characterized the countersuit as “frivolous.”

“They think it’s going to intimidate the coach,” he said. “Our position on the countersuit is that it’s meritless. That’s all we really need to say about it.”

Haider Hamoudi, a Pitt law professor and expert on contract law, said that he thought it would be very unlikely that the University would pursue the case if it was frivolous. But without seeing the contract, which is confidential, he said there would be no way to know.

“I would be very surprised if [the University’s suit] was frivolous,” he said. “I think they are articulating an actual interest. But they might not win.”

Pat Chew, another Pitt law professor and an expert on employment law, made the distinction between being fired with cause and without cause.

“We have what’s called ‘employment at will,’” she said. “That means that you can be fired at any time, but you can also quit at any time.”

However, Chew explained that some employment contracts have clauses that define what constitutes cause. Without seeing Haywood’s contract, she wouldn’t speculate on whether or not the University ultimately had cause to fire him.

After reviewing the original suit and the University’s response, Hamoudi said that the case boils down to the specific language of the contract.

“If they didn’t have cause to fire him, they will have to pay him the $3.75 million he’s suing for,” Hamoudi said. “If they did have cause, [Haywood] will get nothing.”

But Buzbee is confident that the University didn’t have cause. He alleged that the University “jumped to conclusions” when they fired Haywood following his arrest.

Buzbee said that the University didn’t do enough to ascertain whether or not Haywood had actually done anything wrong.

“They just went off of what they saw on TV,” he said. “That’s not the way a professional organization should be run.”

Buzbee said that the mother of Haywood’s child even offered to speak with the University following his firing.

“I do know that this man was not done the way you should do people,” Buzbee said.

Hamoudi said that the specifics of the incident between Haywood and the mother of his child are not at the crux of the case. It hinges on the specific language of Haywood’s contract, and as long as the specifics remain secret, there is no way to speculate.

Haywood and his attorneys are also making a constitutional claim, saying that he had a constitutional expectation to his employment and that his right to due process was violated by the University.

Hamoudi said that this was the weaker of the two claims, and the University filed a motion to dismiss it outright.

“This is a very hard case to make,” Hamoudi said. “Coaches get fired all the time.”

The time frame for the resolution of the case still remains up in the air.

Buzbee said that Haywood just wants the case resolved and didn’t want to pursue litigation in the first place.

“[Haywood] just wants to coach football,” Buzbee said.