A former basketball player at the State University of New York at Albany has filed a lawsuit against the head coach, athletic director and the university, stemming from a pre-game incident involving the player and coach in November 2021, the Daily Gazette of Schenectady, N.Y., reported.
Former Great Danes player Luke Fizulich has filed a lawsuit in federal court against coach Dwayne Killings, athletic director Mark Benson along with SUNY Albany itself.
Filed earlier this week, the lawsuit alleges that, under pressure from local business and civil rights leaders who were “rallied up” by a public relations firm that Killings associated himself with, Benson and the university succumbed “to the pressure of the protest” and reversed its initial decision to terminate Killings, who is Black, and did not discuss the change with Fizulich, who is white.
“Defendant SUNY Albany and Defendant Benson, instead of protecting Fizulich as the victim of the assault, showed preference to the assaulter because of his race,” the lawsuit states.
According to the lawsuit, the reversal of termination breached UAlbany’s Campus and Workplace Violence Prevention Policy and Program.
The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in the Northern District of New York on Monday, the same day Killings served the fifth and final game of his suspension brought on by SUNY Albany investigation into the incident.
Killings is being sued for alleged assault and battery and “tortious interference with contract,” while the university is being sued for an alleged violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, and Benson is being sued for alleged breach of contract.
Title VI prohibits discrimination on the ground of race, color or national origin under any program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.
The lawsuit alleges that before a Nov. 24, 2021, game against Eastern Illinois in Richmond, Kentucky — the fifth game of Killings’ first season at SUNY Albany — Killings "violently and viciously grabbed [Fizulich], threw him up against a locker and struck him in the face, drawing blood."
Prior to the lawsuit being filed, the identity of the player involved in the incident had been reported by media outlets to be Fizulich, but had not been publicly disclosed.
Through text message, Fizulich declined Wednesday to comment to the Daily Gazette. Killings and Benson did not respond to requests for comment, and SUNY Albany deputy athletic director Vic Cegles, who oversees the men’s basketball program, referred a request for comment to a university spokesperson.
In a statement provided to the Daily Gazette, a university spokesperson wrote: “The University at Albany is committed to providing a safe and supportive environment for all students and fully and impartially investigates all allegations of misconduct against University employees. As the University has previously stated, it immediately began its investigation into this matter and took timely and appropriate action at each stage as new information became available. The University previously disclosed the resolution of that investigation on April 2, 2022.The University cannot comment further on pending litigation.”
According to the lawsuit, while the incident was witnessed by every assistant coach and player on the team, neither Killings nor any assistant coach reported it to the university administration.
During his lone season at SUNY Albany, Fizulich was a walk-on player. The filing states that, “Fizulich did not initially talk about the assault because he was humiliated, because of ‘locker room culture,’ and because of fear of losing a promised athletic scholarship offer for the next two years. The environment was such that it was not safe for him to raise this issue and did not allow him to come forward and report Defendant Killings without repercussion.”
The incident took such a toll on Fizulich, the lawsuit states, “that towards the end of the season, Fizulich had a breakdown.” According to the filing, on Feb. 26 of this year, Fizulich contacted his long-time trainer and former coach and told him of the incident. The coach traveled to meet with Fizulich in person and convinced Fizulich to tell his parents and report the incident to university administration.
Fizulich has yet to transfer to another school.
Killings completed his suspension with Monday’s game against Union. He served the first four games before returning to the bench this past Saturday to coach against Siena in the Albany Cup. Killings’ suspension was served during two exhibition games, two regular-season games against Division III opponents and just one game against a Division I team.