Northwestern University hazing lawsuits on new track after claims school attorneys mishandled confidential information

The hot-button lawsuits related to Northwestern University’s hazing scandal — some alleging widespread abuse on the football team, another claiming ex-coach Pat Fitzgerald was wrongly fired — will be consolidated for the time being, a Cook County judge ruled this week.

The decision came after attorneys representing ex-players accused Northwestern’s lawyers of using confidential information obtained in the former players’ lawsuit to help craft their strategy in the separate Fitzgerald case. A lawyer for Northwestern denied that accusation in court this week.

But as a consequence, the cases are now on far different tracks than they were just a few weeks ago.

Broadly speaking, the lawsuits from former players appeared to be on their way to a settlement, and the Fitzgerald lawsuit was headed for trial next year.

But now there appears to be little hope of resolving the ex-players’ suits via mediation, attorneys said. That process “has gotten us not only nowhere but backward,” attorney Lance Northcutt , who represents multiple former players, said in court Tuesday.

“Northwestern has used the mediation process in what’s essentially an attempt to inform its litigation during the Fitzgerald (lawsuit),” Northcutt said, telling the judge there might still be a possibility of reviving mediation but the cases should move toward trial.

Attorney Heather Waller, representing the school, responded that they strenuously disagree with Northcutt’s claims about Northwestern’s conduct, but “it appears we’re at a point in time where some litigation will need to go forward.”

Meanwhile, the 2025 trial date in Fitzgerald’s lawsuit against Northwestern was canceled, and it is not immediately clear when it could be rescheduled.

The cases will now be consolidated for the discovery phase, in which attorneys seek information and exchange potential evidence. In a statement Wednesday, lawyers for the ex-players said they intend to ask that the cases be consolidated for trial as well.

“Both the hazing litigation and the Fitzgerald lawsuit name Northwestern University, and all cases have multiple overlapping issues,” the statement reads. “The same allegations of abuse cited in the hazing litigation are the same allegations that became the catalyst for Fitzgerald’s termination, of which he complains in his lawsuit.”

The lawsuits were filed in the wake of snowballing allegations of hazing on the Wildcat football squad. Multiple former players have filed suit against the school, saying they suffered physical, sexual and racist abuse during their time on the football team.

The scandal surfaced last summer, when the university released a summary of an outside investigation into allegations on the football team. At the time, the school suspended Fitzgerald for two weeks. Three days later, after a bombshell story in The Daily Northwestern detailed a former player’s account of hazing, Fitzgerald was removed as head coach.

In October, Fitzgerald filed a suit of his own, saying his firing amounted to a breach of contract and accusing Northwestern of “callous and outrageous misconduct in destroying his career.”