Jury hands ex-Penn St. assistant over $7M in defamation case
BELLEFONTE, Pa. — A jury awarded a former Penn State assistant football coach $7.3 million in damages Thursday, finding the university defamed him after it became public that his testimony helped prosecutors charge Jerry Sandusky with child molestation.
Jurors deliberated for about four hours in Mike McQueary’s defamation and misrepresentation suit.
Judge Thomas Gavin still must decide the whistleblower claim that McQueary was treated unfairly as the school suspended him from coaching duties, placed him on paid administrative leave, barred him from team facilities and then did not renew his contract shortly after he testified at Sandusky’s 2012 trial.
McQueary remained stoic as the verdict was read, and he and his lawyers gave no comment to reporters as they left the courthouse.
Penn State lawyers also didn’t comment after the ruling.
McQueary had been seeking more than $4 million in lost wages and other damages, saying he was defamed by a statement the school president released the day Sandusky was charged, retaliated against for helping with the Sandusky investigation and misled by school administrators.
Sandusky, a former defensive coach at Penn State, was convicted in 2012 of sexual abuse of 10 boys and is serving a 30- to 60-year prison sentence. He maintains his innocence.
“He should not have been the scapegoat,” lawyer Elliot Strokoff said in closing arguments.
In closing arguments earlier Thursday, Penn State attorney Nancy Conrad emphasized that McQueary had said he was damaged by public criticism that he did not to go to police or child-welfare authorities when he saw Sandusky sexually abusing a boy in a team shower in 2001. Instead he reported it the next day to then-head coach Joe Paterno.
“Mr. McQueary was not damaged by any action of the university,” Conrad argued. “Mr. McQueary, as he testified and as he recognized, if he was harmed, was harmed by national media and public opinion.”
McQueary testified he has not been able to find work, either in coaching or elsewhere, but Conrad blamed that on an inadequate network of contacts and the lack of a national reputation.
McQueary was not allowed to coach in the school’s first game after Paterno was fired, a home loss to Nebraska.
“That sends a very clear signal to those in your network that the university doesn’t want you to be supported,” Strokoff said. “’Stay away, you’re a nonperson.’”
Penn State has argued it put McQueary on leave out of safety concerns, as threats were fielded by the university.