LUBBOCK, Texas (AP) — Former Texas Tech football coach Mike Leach can move forward with a lawsuit claiming breach of contract over his firing, which followed allegations of player mistreatment, a judge ruled Tuesday.
State District Judge William C. Sowder struck down Texas Tech's claim of sovereign immunity from the breach of conduct claim. But Sowder upheld the university's sovereign immunity against the lawsuit's other claims, which included libel, slander and violation of Texas' Whistleblower Act.
The university fired Leach on Dec. 30, two days after suspending him amid allegations he mistreated a player with a concussion. Leach has denied mistreating Adam James and suspects an $800,000 bonus he was to have received Dec. 31 was the reason he was fired.
James, the son of former NFL player and ESPN analyst Craig James, has said his coach twice ordered him to stand for hours while confined in a dark place during practice.
Leach's legal team said in a statement that Sowder's ruling "validates" Leach's position in the lawsuit. Leach's attorneys claimed he is owed $9 million under the breach of contract claim.
"While we understand Texas Tech's desire to enforce the defense of sovereign immunity, we do not understand Tech's continued refusal to acknowledge its obligations to Mike Leach especially in light of Judge Sowder's ruling," the statement said.
Leach, who now lives in Key West, Fla., did not immediately return a text message seeking comment.
Tech attorney Dicky Grigg said in a statement that the school was "pleased" the judge granted sovereign immunity in Leach's other claims and that the university will appeal the breach of contract claim ruling to the Seventh Court of Appeals in Amarillo.
The university's lawyers had argued Leach could not sue the school because Texas Tech is a state entity that can only be sued with permission from the state Legislature or a waiver based on a defendant's conduct.
The judge ruled, in the breach of contract claim, that Tech had waived its immunity by its conduct. His ruling said there was "no basis, legal or factual" for waiver of conduct in any of Leach's other six claims.
The judge also dismissed three top administrators — university system Chancellor Kent Hance, school President Guy Bailey, athletic director Gerald Myers — and from the lawsuit.
Grigg said he expected two members of the Board of Regents also named in the suit to be dismissed at a later date.
The ruling comes after six months of court filings and depositions, including by Leach, Craig and Adam James.