Following the college basketball season, Geno Ford accepted the head basketball coaching position at Bradley University (“BU”) thereby leaving Kent State University (“KSU”) jilted in the process. In turn, KSU sued Ford and BU for the damages associated with his departure in accordance with the liquidated damages clause in his contract. KSU is seeking $1.2m from Ford and $25,000 from BU based on a claim for tortuous interference with contract.
In response, Ford claims, among other things, the liquidated damages provision is unconscionable. This argument is nothing new. Vanderbilt Univ. v. DiNardo speaks to this very point. After DiNardo left Vanderbilt for the head football coaching job at LSU, Vanderbilt sought to recover its damages based on a reciprocal liquidated damages provision. DiNardo argued the liquidated damages provision was punitive in nature. Conversely, Vanderbilt successfully argued that the liquidated provision was valid because of the costs associated with hiring a new coaching staff and the necessary changes made to the program. Similarly, Rich Rodriguez battled with West Virginia University over his liquidated damages provision before ultimately settling the claim.
BU’s arguments present an interesting issue. BU articulates that KSU agreed to allow the university to speak with and interview Ford for its open position and, therefore, KSU waived its ability to argue that it improperly induced Ford. Most of these cases resolve prior to trial. It will be interesting to see whether BU will pay for some or all of the liquidated damages on behalf of Ford.