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McQueary files damage suit against Penn State

Published: Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012 9:28 a.m. CDT

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. (MCT) — Mike McQueary, a former Penn State assistant football coach who was a star witness in the Jerry Sandusky trial, wants millions of dollars in damages from Penn State for allegedly ruining his reputation and branding him as part of a cover-up, according to the whistle-blower lawsuit he filed against the university Tuesday.

In the suit, McQueary alleges the university’s treatment of him since Nov. 5, when the charges against Sandusky were made public, has ruined his reputation, crippled him financially and kept him from earning a living doing what he wants—coaching football.

In particular, the lawsuit’s points the finger at former president Graham Spanier and former university administrators Tim Curley and Gary Schultz. He also alleges the university terminated him because of his cooperation with investigators and prosecutors in the Sandusky case.

McQueary testified he saw Sandusky in a shower with a young boy in February 2001 in what he thought was a sexual act. He was approached by investigators in November 2010 after they got an anonymous tip.

McQueary’s suit was filed on the grounds of the whistle-blower statute, defamation and misrepresentation. He’s seeking more than $4 million in lost wages plus legal costs and other punitive damages to be determined after a jury trial.

Penn State spokesman David La Torre declined to comment on the allegations from McQueary’s suit. At a university trustees meeting in Scranton this summer, trustee Ira Lubert told the board that McQueary’s pending suit, which at the time consisted only of a notice he intended to sue, was baseless.

McQueary was put on administrative leave Nov. 13 and told to stay away from university football facilities and give back university property, like a cell phone and a car. His salary for 2011-2012 was $140,400 plus other bonuses and benefits, his attorney, Elliot Strokoff, said in the suit.

Since then, McQueary has suffered “much distress, anxiety and embarrassment” from the university, the suit alleges. But he has not gone into hiding, as he has been seen around town, such as at State College Spikes baseball games and on Penn State campus.

McQueary’s suit alleges that Spanier’s support for Curley and Schultz—the former administrators who are awaiting trial on perjury charges—“reinforces the perception that (McQueary) had lied and committed perjury.” Spanier issued a news release backing Curley and Schultz on Nov. 5 after they were indicted, and McQueary’s suit said Spanier reiterated that message in a meeting with university athletics staff on Nov. 7.

Spanier’s news release said he had “complete confidence” in how Curley and Schultz handled the report of allegations against Sandusky in 2001.

McQueary alleged the news release was a ploy to show public support for and exonerate Curley and Schultz while isolating McQueary and making him the scapegoat.

“President Spanier’s statements have irreparably harmed the Plaintiff’s reputation for honesty and integrity, and have irreparably harmed the Plaintiff’s ability to earn a living, especially in his chosen profession of coaching football,” the suit says.

A spokesman for Spanier did not return e-mail messages seeking comment.

On the grounds of the whistle-blower statute, McQueary said the university discriminated against him and terminated him because of his cooperation with the state attorney general’s grand jury investigation and testifying at criminal proceedings for Curley and Schultz.

The suit said McQueary was the only assistant coach not invited for an interview for a possible coaching position under new head coach Bill O’Brien.

A few assistant coaches stayed on under O’Brien, and others were given severance packages that started July 31.

McQueary said the university refused to pay him a severance and had to make an early withdrawal from his pension account, which will have him incur a substantial but not yet determined penalty.

McQueary also said the university has not offered to have his legal fees reimbursed by the university, and he has incurred “substantial and ongoing” legal fees. According to the university’s bylaws, trustees and certain high-ranking university officials can be reimbursed for legal expenses, such as Curley, Schultz and Spanier.

McQueary also alleges Curley and Schultz misrepresented to him that they thought his report to them in 2001 was serious.

The suit states that Curley and Schultz “had decided to pursue a course of action that would avoid an investigation by any law enforcement investigator or other trained investigator and try to keep Plaintiff’s report, and the underlying incident, a secret in an effort to preserve the reputation of” Penn State.

McQueary, who played quarterback under former head coach Joe Paterno, was a graduate assistant when he walked in on the infamous shower incident in February 2001. He testified at Sandusky’s trial that he thought it was sexual in nature because of the sounds he heard but did not see a sex act occurring.

McQueary reported the incident to Paterno, who reported it to Curley. McQueary later met with Curley and Schultz and was told the situation was resolved.

McQueary became an assistant coach in 2004. His contract expired June 30, and he said he did not know he had been terminated until he saw President Rodney Erickson saying that on TV in July.

During the Sandusky trial, McQueary testified that he thought he did a good job as an assistant coach and did not get the job in 2004 because of the shower incident years before. He also said under oath, while comparing the coach O’Brien to coach Paterno, that O’Brien “wants to know where you are every second of the day.” He did not say how he came to make that assertion because he never worked under O’Brien.

McQueary is expected to be a witness at the trial of Curley and Schultz, who were indicted by the grand jury investigating Sandusky on charges they lied under oath about their knowledge of the allegations. Both men have maintained their innocence and are scheduled for trial in January in Harrisburg.

The 2001 shower incident took a life of its own after the charges came about, as it led to the firing of Paterno and Spanier. In the end, though, the jury acquitted Sandusky of the most serious charge from that incident, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse.

A young man stepped forward this summer and said through his civil attorneys that he was that boy in the shower. Known as Victim 2 from the grand jury’s presentment, the young man went through years of abuse from Sandusky, the attorneys said.

The Freeh report, a university-commissioned inquiry in July, determined that Spanier, Curley, Schultz and Paterno all concealed allegations of abuse against Sandusky to avoid bad publicity. The report by former FBI director Louis Freeh was accepted by the university’s trustees and was the basis for harsh sanctions by the NCAA that include a post-season bowl ban, a loss of scholarships and vacating all Penn State’s wins from 1998 to 2011.

The Freeh report has been criticized by attorneys for Spanier, Curley, Schultz, and Paterno as well as university trustees, faculty and alumni.

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