Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Rutgers confidentially pays $300,000 to settle varsity basketball player's discrimination and abuse suit.

On April 22, 2016, Rutgers University quietly paid $300,000 to settle a 2013 lawsuit filed by a learning disabled basketball player who claimed that the university's former head basketball coach "chronically and heinously targeted and abused [him], both physically and psychologically."

In his suit, Derrick Randall alleged that coach Michael Rice "violently grabbed, kicked, shoved and berated" him and other players, threw basketballs directly at the players' heads and subjected them to profane language and homophobic slurs.  The alleged abuse was video recorded aired on April 2, 2013 by ESPN's "Outside the Lines" television program.

Rice's abuse allegedly caused Randall to experience a "constant and debilitating stale of anxiety and fear" and caused him to "shut down" and lose all his confidence.

Also named in the the lawsuit were Rutgers former Athletic Director Timothy Pernetti, assistant basketball coach James Martelli, Rutgers CFO for Intercollegiate Athletics Janine Purcaro, Rutgers Board of Governors member Mark P. Hershhorn and Rutgers University President Robert L. Barchi.

The lawsuit was reported in the Star Ledger on December 9, 2013.  As part of the settlement, Rutgers also agreed to pay $6,800 for Randall's expert witness fees.

The case is captioned Randall v. Rutgers et al, Federal Case No. 3:13-cv-0735 and Randall's attorney was Daniel S. Kokhba of New York. Case documents are on-line here.

The settlement agreement contains a confidentiality clause, which prevents the parties to the suit from publicly disclosing the settlement terms.  Fortunately, however, these confidentiality clauses do not trump the public's right to obtain copies of settlement agreements that arise out of lawsuits in which a government agency or official is a defendant.

None of Randall's allegations have been proven or disproven in court. Settlement agreements typically state that payment does not constitute an admission of wrongdoing by any of the defendants.  All that is known for sure is that the Rutgers or its insurer, for whatever reason, decided that it would rather pay Randall $300,000 than take the matter to trial. Perhaps the defendants' decision to settle was done to save further legal expense and the costs of trying what were in fact exaggerated or meritless claims. Or, perhaps the claims were true and the defendants wanted to avoid being embarrassed at trial. This is the problem when cases settle before trial--it is impossible to know the truth of what really happened.