A lawyer for a former Penn State assistant football coach told jurors on Thursday the school treated his client with malice in firing him after finding out he was a key witness against Jerry Sandusky, a former coach eventually convicted of molesting boys.
Elliot Strokoff said his client, Michael McQueary, suffered loss of employment and reputation after Penn State learned in 2011 that he had told investigators he witnessed Sandusky having sex in a shower with a young boy 10 years earlier.
The lawyer said Penn State administrators Timothy Curley and Gary Schultz covered up the incident after McQueary reported it to them years earlier. In addition, he said, the administrators lied when they assured McQueary, then a Penn State graduate student, that they would handle the incident properly.
McQueary “should not have been a scapegoat,” Strokoff said during closing arguments in the trial of his client’s lawsuit against Pennsylvania State University. “They said that he is the villain and that he is only in court because of his own failures.”
The lawyer urged the jury of nine women and three men to award compensatory and punitive damages to McQueary for defamation and misrepresentation.
McQueary was an assistant coach for wide receivers under Joe Paterno, Penn State’s legendary head coach, for eight seasons. Paterno was fired for his role in the Sandusky scandal and died months later. McQueary lost his job in 2012, ostensibly because the new head coach, Bill O’Brien, did not want him.
Penn State’s lawyer, Nancy Conrad, told jurors in closing that McQueary was not defamed by former Penn State President Graham Spanier in 2011 when he said in a statement that charges against the administrators, which were based on McQueary’s testimony, were “groundless.”
She argued that McQueary’s failure to find a job since 2012 was his own fault, not Penn State’s.
“He was not damaged by any actions of the university,” Conrad said. “If he was harmed, it was by national media and public opinion. He failed to find a position because of his own shortcomings.”
The lawsuit, filed in 2012 but delayed until now because Curley and Schultz had not gone on trial for criminal charges in the alleged cover-up, is being heard in Centre County Court of Common Pleas in Bellefonte, near Penn State’s main campus.
Conrad said McQueary was removed from coaching in November 2011 out of concern for his own safety for failing to stop Sandusky’s alleged molestation of the boy, not as retaliation for his testimony against Sandusky and the administrators.
But Strokoff said there was only one verified threat against McQueary, and that was traced to a crank in Florida.
(Editing By Frank McGurty and Mary Milliken)