When Rick Pitino was fired for “just cause” as University of Louisville’s head basketball coach in September, the former Boston Celtics coach lost a contract worth about $38.7 million. Last week, Pitino filed a lawsuit against the university’s athletic association, claiming his employer is in breach of contract for firing him when it lacked “just cause” to do so. The lawsuit also claims that his employer failed to properly notify Pitino that he had been placed on administrative leave.
What Was the “Just Cause” for Pitino’s Firing?
According to Louisville, Pitino engaged in misconduct on three grounds:
- He knew of, or was involved in, efforts to illegally incentivize basketball recruits to attend Louisville. This includes payments to Brian Bowen’s family. Ironically, although Bowen was a top recruit at the time, he’s now a non-eligible freshman.
- He failed to to notify the athletic department’s compliance officers of the presence of Richard Dawkins, an alleged briber, on campus. According to Louisville, in doing so, he violated his contract. Dawkins faces decades in prison for his alleged role in multiple college basketball-related crimes.
- When allegations arose about escorts being directed to have sex with certain recruits, he failed to take actions necessary to stop the behavior.
But Pitino denies all of the above. According to his lawsuit, Pitino “never has had any part —active, passive, or through willful ignorance —in any effort, successful or unsuccessful, completed or abandoned, to pay any recruit, or any family member of a recruit, or anyone else on a recruit’s behalf, as an inducement to attend the University of Louisville.” To support his argument, Pitino’s complaint points out that despite a government wiretap, no recorded statements of any wrongdoing on Pitino’s part are cited.
Pitino also claims that he did not have an obligation to report Dawkins’ activities. According to his complaint, “Coach Pitino never understood that Dawkins was an agent, and Bowen’s mother stated that Dawkins was not an agent in any regard for Bowen.”
And with regards to the escorts, Pitino insists that he had zero awareness of these activities.
In addition to his complaints above, Pitino believes that the process by which his termination occurred is another issue. According to his complaint, Louisville failed to conduct a proper investigation or provide sufficient notice prior to his termination. A MA employment law attorney can help you determine how to proceed if you’ve been wrongfully terminated.
But Can Pitino Win?
Unfortunately for Pitino, the language in his employment contract is extremely broad, and quite vague. As such, supporting a “just cause” firing will be an easier task than if the contract had been more specific. In order to show that he did not violate his contract, Pitino would effectively have to convince the court that he had zero involvement in, and zero knowledge of, any wrongdoing or corruption. Further, Pitino doesn’t rank particularly high on the Kentucky popularity scale these days. By suing in Kentucky, he may find himself facing a seriously-biased jury. A Boston employment law attorney can help you recover damages if you have been wrongfully terminated.
Altman & Altman, LLP – Top Employment Law Firm in MA
If you have been wrongfully terminated, the skilled legal team at Altman & Altman, LLP can help. We have been protecting the rights of MA workers for more than 50 years. Contracts are put in place to create a clear outline of employer and employee rights and obligations. Everyone underestimates the importance of a contract when things are going smoothly. But when the tables turn, the language in a contract can be worth a lot. In Pitino’s case, it may be worth upwards of $38 million. At Altman & Altman, LLP, we can review your existing contracts to ensure that you are adequately protected if relationships or arrangements go sour. Contact us today for a free and confidential consultation about your case.