NEWARK (CN) - The man who blew the whistle on Rutgers by releasing the video that showed its basketball coach insulting and abusing players sued the college Friday for conspiracy, discrimination and wrongful firing.
Eric Murdock, a former NBA player who was director of player development for Rutgers' men's basketball team, sued Rutgers and the State University of New Jersey; Rutgers President Robert Barchi; its (fired) hoops coach Michael Rice; its former athletic director Timothy Pernetti, who has resigned; and its former president, Richard McCormick, in Essex County Court.
Murdock was director of player development for the men's hoops squad from July 2010 through July 2, 2012, he says in the complaint.
He claims that he complained to his direct supervisor, coach Rice, and to Pernetti "on several occasions" about Rice's abuse of his players.
Rice was fired last week after a video went viral on the Internet, showing him pushing his athletes, throwing basketballs at them and calling them "faggots." The video rang alarms bells not just for the abuse itself but because a Rutgers student had killed himself in September 2010, after a different video was leaked, showing his homosexual encounter.
Rutgers fired coach Rice after the video made national news. Then Pernetti quit, and President Barchi is under fire.
Barchi claims he never saw the video until it made headlines, though it was available to him as early as November 2012, and Rice was suspended without pay for three games and fined $50,000 in December.
Rice's "suspension and fine was a direct response to the issues reported by Mr. Murdock," Murdock says in his complaint.
The complaint continues: "While Mr. Murdock's employment with the university was wrongfully terminated, defendant Rice, whose assaultive, abusive and unlawful conduct and bullying of and discrimination against student-athletes was publicly recognized by the university, its athletic director, and others in December 2012, defendant Rice remained as one of the highest-compensated employees of the university and, under information and belief, the State of New Jersey."
Rutgers and its top officials are also under scrutiny because while they retained Rice, the college was seeking entrance to the Big Ten Conference, one of the, if not the most lucrative college athletic conference in the nation. In the widespread media coverage of the Rice case, numerous experts and pundits have said that Rutgers feared that news of the abuse could have jeopardized its drive to join the Big Ten.
Murdock says in his complaint that "Having played organized basketball for his entire life, including at the highest level in the National Basketball Association, Mr. Murdock never experienced a coach whose behavior and treatment of his players and others crossed the line into aforementioned assaultive, abusive and other unlawful conduct.
"Moreover, defendant Rice's misconduct was at all times readily available for review by defendants Barchi, McCormick, Pernetti and others as video of all practices overseen by defendant Rice are publicly available. In fact, such video footage was released by the university to Mr. Murdock's representatives upon a simple Open Public Records Act ('OPRA') request.
"Mr. Murdock's employment with the university was abruptly terminated on July 2, 2012 under the false pretense that his contract with the university was not being renewed for the 2012-13 academic year.
"The reason offered for Mr. Murdock's termination was demonstrably pretextual as Mr. Murdock's contract had previously been renewed by the university and its representatives. Rather, the termination was the direct result of Mr. Murdock's complaints and report of defendant Rice's unlawful conduct including, but not limited to, in violation of New Jersey's anti-bullying laws, assault (both physical and verbal), battery, harassment, intimidation, bullying and discrimination (including repeated used of hostile and insulting homophobic and racial slurs) against student-athletes, staff members and others, in violation of the university's policy against verbal assault, harassment, intimidation, bullying and defamation, and in violation of the terms of his employment with the university.
"Following a non-employment related 'incident' in June 2012 in which defendant Rice viewed Mr. Murdock as having defied his orders (by attending a motivational talk at his son's high school basketball camp for approximately thirty-five minutes), defendant Rice abruptly advised Mr. Murdock that he was 'fired.'" (Parentheses in complaint.)
Murdock seeks an injunction, lost wages and punitive damages for violations of New Jersey's Conscientious Employee Protection Act, hostile workplace, breach of contract, breach of faith, wrongful firing, negligence and civil conspiracy.
He is represented by Barry Kozyra with Kozyra & Hartz, of Roseland, N.J.
Murdock, a point guard, played in the NBA for 9 years, from 1991 to 2000.
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