CHICAGO – Three former members of Northwestern University's baseball coaching staff filed a lawsuit against the school on Monday, saying they lost their jobs for trying to report bullying and derogatory abuse by the team's head coach, who has since been fired.
The ex-staffers say Jim Foster's coaching was rife with toxic and volatile behavior throughout the 2022-23 season, and that the school protected Foster after they filed a human resources complaint against him.
Northwestern says the lawsuit suit “lacks merit” and vowed to fight it in court, and Foster did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment Monday.
Foster was sacked on July 13, just three days after football coach Pat Fitzgerald was dismissed because of a hazing scandal. The university faces more than a dozen lawsuits for hazing, racism and bullying in its football — and now baseball — programs.
“Only when the media found out about Coach Foster’s abuse did Northwestern choose to do something,” Christopher Beacom, the former director of baseball operations, told reporters Monday. “They swept our reports under the rug, putting their staff, student athletes and reputation at risk.”
Beacom is suing the school alongside two ex-assistant coaches, Michael Dustin Napoleon, and Jonathan R. Strauss.
Their attorney, Christopher J. Esbrook, said they’re suing the school for negligence because it allowed the head coach to create such a toxic environment and mishandled the HR complaint.
Northwestern University spokesperson Jon Yates said in an emailed statement that the school started its human resources investigation as soon as the university and the athletic director were first made aware of complaints about Foster.
“The assistant coaches and director of operations received full support from the University, they were paid for their full contracts and, at their request, were allowed to support other areas of our athletic department as needed,” he wrote.
The 28-page legal complaint is lodged against the university, Foster, athletic director Derrick Gragg, deputy director of athletics Monique Holland and assistant athletics director for human resources Rachel Velez.
It alleges Foster during his first year as head coach “exhibited volatile, unpredictable behavior with frequent blow-ups,” referred to a high school-aged batter as the “Chinese kid,” said he did not want a female team manager on the field because he didn't want the players checking her out.
The suit also says Foster “created such a toxic environment that staff members felt too uncomfortable to go the lunchroom because they would have to interact with Foster — causing them severe anxiety and stress.”
Savage is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.