The fallout from the Penn State football scandal is hardly over. This week, news hit that a former university employee, Mike McQueary, has filed yet another lawsuit associated with the well-publicized story. McQueary was one of the many people who testified against Jerry Sandusky at his trial and is now alleging that school superiors irreparably harmed his reputation in order to save face for the program in the wake of the scandal.
Testimony Against Sandusky: Catalyst For Defamation Lawsuit?
McQueary testified at the Sandusky trial that in 2001 he came across the football coach and a boy in the shower. He reported it.
After the headlines hit, McQueary alleges that Graham Spanier , Penn State’s then-president, held what sounds like an all-hands-on-deck meeting with the athletic department to voice his support for Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, the director and vice president of the department respectively. Both were charged with perjury and failing to report Sandusky’s abuse.
McQueary says that this meeting was designed to disparage him for the sake of the school’s reputation. The lawsuit also goes on to claim that Spanier “clearly suggest(ed) that (McQueary) was lying in his reports and testimonies that he had reported the sexual misconduct.” The defamation filing also asserts that the events have caused Mr. McQueary “distress, anxiety, humiliation and embarrassment” and has “harmed [his] ability to earn a living, especially in his chosen profession of coaching football.”
McQueary found out about his dismissal, while on administrative leave, via a news conference held by Rodney Erickson, the university’s newest president. An understandably huge disappointment to McQueary, as according to his lawsuit, he was expecting to earn a $140,000 salary and around $4 million for coaching.
What Will McQueary Have To Prove To Win This Defamation Lawsuit?
In order for McQueary to win this defamation lawsuit, he’ll first have to prove a couple of things:
1) He was materially harmed by the statements in question.
2) The statements made by Spanier were largely untrue.
Now, since McQueary voluntarily injected himself into this public interest story, he will most likely be considered a public figure — if only a “limited public figure,” a public figure nonetheless. As such, thanks to the 1964 Supreme Court ruling in The New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, any public figure that is filing a slander or libel lawsuit, must prove that the defendant acted with malice – meaning they purposefully lied, or acted with reckless disregard for the truth, to intentionally hurt the movant.
It will be interesting to see how the lawyers in this defamation lawsuit argue the facts of the case. A lot of angles could be explored. Does Spanier genuinely believe that Curley and Schultz are innocent of any wrongdoing and if so, can that be crafted into a successful defense? Did the statements in question really harm McQueary’s reputation since many people support his actions? We’ll undoubtedly be getting the answers to these questions over the next several months as this defamation lawsuit progresses.
McQueary is being represented by Elliot Strokoff and the presumed Penn State spokesman on the matter is Dave La Torre.
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