(CN) - The University of Pittsburgh "had just cause" to fire its former head football coach after he was arrested for choking his child's mother, a federal judge ruled.
About two weeks after signing a five-year contract with the University of Pittsburgh in December 2010, Michael Haywood circled his house in South Bend, Ind., knocking on the doors and windows, in hopes of visiting his 2-year-old son, according to the coach's testimony.
Haywood added that, once he saw through the window a pole barricading the entrance, he leaned against the door, so the pole slid out.
He said the child's mother, Beth Marriott, was "screaming and yelling," drunk, "totally out of control," and intended to drive away with their son.
Although Haywood said that Marriott "attacked" him when he tried to take their child out of her car, the mother testified that Haywood put his forearm and bicep around her neck, took her to the back of the car, and, once he got the door unlocked, dropped her so she fell backward.
Marriott then called the police, and they arrested Haywood, who was later charged with domestic battery with a child present.
On New Year's Day 2011, the day after the incident, the university told the press it was terminating Haywood's contract, according to Chancellor Mark Nordenberg's testimony.
Days later Haywood lost his million-dollar base salary, university vehicle, private stadium box for home games, and potential supplemental compensation for exceptional performance.
Though Athletic Director Steve Pederson and Executive Vice Chancellor Jerome Cochran said they listened to Haywood's version of the events before firing him, he sued the school for breach of contract and violation of his due process rights under the 14th Amendment. Haywood said the university also breached an oral agreement to buy out his contract with Miami University for $300,000.
The University of Pittsburgh filed a counterclaim for breach of confidentiality, arguing that Haywood revealed to the press in June 2011 that his contract would have paid him up to $7.5 million, plus other incentives.
Chief U.S. District Judge Joy Flowers Conti dismissed Haywood's federal claim last year and his claims under state law last month.
"In light of what the university did and knew at the time it issued the press release on Jan. 1, 2011 at 5:42 p.m. and sent the letter to [Haywood's attorney and agent, Albert] Elias on Jan. 4, 2011, a reasonable jury could only find - based upon Haywood's own statements to Cochran and Pederson about what he did - that at those times the university had just cause to terminate Haywood's employment and exercised good faith in making that determination," Conti wrote. "Haywood, under those circumstances, would not be entitled to damages as a matter of law."
The judge later added: "At the time of the just cause termination all obligations of the university to Haywood ceased. The oral agreement to buyout Haywood's remaining contract with Miami University or obligations arising from its breach did not, therefore, survive."
A reasonable jury could find, however, that Haywood's own press release did not breach the confidentiality provision of the employment contract, the ruling states.
"Based upon Elias' undisputed testimony that the financial terms contained in the press release were available on USA Today, the restrictions would not be reasonably necessary to protect the university's legitimate interests," Conti wrote. "In other words, the university would have no legitimate interest in protecting information that is publicly available."
The court nevertheless refused to award Haywood summary judgment since he did not say that his salary information was publicly available, only that the university could not prove damages.
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