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September 29, 2011

Fired football coach seeks $4 million-plus for breach of contract

michael_haywoodMichael A. Haywood, who was fired by Pitt as head football coach in January just 16 days after being hired, has sued the University in federal civil court for being dismissed without due process and for breach of contract.

Haywood is seeking $3.75 million in damages and $300,000 in a separate breach-of-contract claim, plus legal fees and other relief as assigned by the court.

In a complaint filed Sept. 19 in the United States District Court-Western District of Pennsylvania Pittsburgh Division, Haywood’s attorneys allege that under the terms of the five-year employment contract he signed last December, Pitt “could terminate Mr. Haywood with or without just cause. However, if [Pitt] terminated Mr. Haywood without just cause, it is required to pay Mr. Haywood liquidated damages in the amount of $750,000 for every year remaining on the term of the employment agreement.”

The suit further alleges that, under terms of a separate contract, Pitt agreed to pay the $300,000 buy-out fee necessitated when Haywood left his previous job as head coach of Miami University (Ohio), an agreement that Pitt has reneged on, the complaint states.

Pitt fired Haywood Jan. 1 following his New Year’s Eve arrest in South Bend, Ind., on alleged domestic abuse charges involving the mother of his then-21-month-old child in the presence of the child, a class D felony. (See Jan. 6 University Times.)

At his pretrial hearing in February, Haywood admitted he grabbed the woman during an argument and that she was injured in a fall during the encounter, a version of the events that differs from the arresting officers’ report.

Haywood later entered a court-approved diversion agreement, requiring him to undergo a psychological evaluation and perform 60 hours of community service. The judge said the charge would be dismissed in a year if Haywood honored the agreement.

In the Sept. 19 complaint, Haywood alleges that Pitt “was fully aware that he was embroiled in a custody dispute with his son’s mother.” Following his release from police custody on Jan. 1, Haywood contacted Pitt officials, saying he would return to Pittsburgh the next day to explain what had happened, according to the suit. “Unbeknownst to Mr. Haywood … [a senior Pitt official] had already called his agent … and told him that Mr. Haywood had been terminated,” without affording Haywood “an opportunity to give his version of the incident, nor did [Pitt] ever bother to speak with Mr. Haywood directly about why he was fired,” a violation of due process, the complaint states.

John Fedele, Pitt associate director of News, said the University does not comment on pending litigation.

This latest legal action follows a complaint that Haywood’s attorneys initially filed in June, asking the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission (HRC) to investigate Haywood’s termination on the grounds that it was racially motivated. (See July 7 University Times.) HRC has not ruled yet on that complaint, formally registered on Aug. 1, a ruling that could take up to a year, an HRC official said.

—Peter Hart

Filed under: Feature,Volume 44 Issue 3

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