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Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

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Judge sets April 2025 trial date, encourages settlement in Pat Fitzgerald lawsuit

Daily file photo by Alyce Brown
Fitzgerald is seeking more than $130 million in compensatory damages related to his termination last July.

A judge for the Illinois Circuit Court for Cook County encouraged both parties to settle out of court in former head football coach Pat Fitzgerald’s breach of contract and defamation lawsuit against Northwestern and University President Schill at a Monday morning hearing. In an order issued after the hearing, the judge also set an April 7, 2025, trial date for the case, rejecting efforts by Fitzgerald’s lawyers to move the trial up.

Fitzgerald sued the University in October for breach of an oral contract, breach of employment contract, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, false light and tortious interference with a business expectancy related to his termination last July. He’s seeking more than $130 million to fulfill the remainder of his contract — $68 million, through 2030 — and calculated future earning losses of $62 million. 

Fitzgerald’s case alleges that the University unlawfully terminated him on July 10, three days after he was suspended without pay and two days after The Daily reported on alleged hazing on the football team. That followed an independent investigation led by attorney Maggie Hickey from December 2022 until summer 2023. 

While the investigation concluded there was not sufficient evidence that the coaching staff knew of the hazing, it did determine that “there had been significant opportunities (for coaches) to discover and report the hazing conduct.”

Fitzgerald appeared at the Monday hearing via Zoom, alongside Winston & Strawn Partners Dan Webb and Matthew Carter, who are representing Fitzgerald in the case. Jenner & Block Partners Reid Schar, Nicole Allen and Jason Bradford — the University’s legal counsel in the case — also appeared on Zoom.

At the hearing, Webb defended his request for a December 2024 trial date on the basis that delaying the case could prevent Fitzgerald from being able to coach in the 2025 football season. 

“I’m told by experts that if he misses that third season, then it’s going to have a severe impact on his ability to ever get a chance to get any kind of comparable coaching job,” Webb said.

Webb also said that, since Hickey’s investigation found no evidence of Fitzgerald’s knowledge of the hazing, a trial is likely to be speedy and conclusive.

Schar called the proposed schedule unachievable and pushed back on Webb’s logic, arguing that Hickey’s review did not clear Fitzgerald of wrongdoing and that additional evidence in court could counter that narrative. He also pushed back on the claim that the case will determine Fitzgerald’s ability to be hired as a football coach.

“If somehow the belief is that this is a simple case because it’s bound by what Maggie Hickey’s report found, that is not an accurate assessment of the complications of this case and the additional evidence that’s going to be relevant in this case,” Schar said.

Kubasiak responded that he could not determine the case’s schedule based on Fitzgerald’s line of employment and said he attempted to set a trial date that compromised both parties’ interests. He added that he hoped the parties would consider settling the case out of court.

“From my perspective — and only from my perspective — I don’t think any party wins if this matter goes to trial,” Kubasiak said. “I think this is clearly the type of matter that should be resolved with the parties.”

Fitzgerald, along with other current and former University officials, is also facing litigation from former football players related to the alleged hazing. Schill told NU staff in a November fireside chat that the lawsuits would not put the University’s finances in jeopardy.

The judge gave both parties until July 31 to complete written fact discovery and until Dec. 6 to file motions for summary judgment.

Correction: A previous version of this article misstated the next court date in Fitzgerald v. Northwestern. The Daily regrets the error.

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