By Shawn Ness | November 18, 2022
Coach Killings and Luke Fizulich during a home game in February.
Photo Credit: Hans Pennink/Times Union
Updated Aug. 28, 2023.
Luke Fizulich, a former University at Albany men’s basketball player, filed a lawsuit against the university on Monday after an altercation between Fizulich and head coach Dwayne Killings last November. The lawsuit also names coach Killings and athletic director Mark Benson as defendants as part of an ongoing investigation.
The lawsuit alleges that coach Killings “violently and viciously grabbed him, threw him up against a locker and struck him in the face, drawing blood,” on Nov. 24, 2021. Killings, as a result, was suspended for five games and fined $25,000, which was donated to charities of UAlbany’s choice.
The incident, which occurred during a road game at Eastern Illinois University, was witnessed by all the coaching staff and the team, according to the lawsuit. None of the staff reported the incident to the UAlbany administration.
Fizulich did not report the incident to UAlbany until Feb. 27, 2022, three months after the altercation took place. Fizulich claimed he did not speak out about the incident because he was humiliated due to “locker room culture,” as well as fear of losing his athletic scholarship.
UAlbany opened an investigation after it was reported and found that Killings did strike a player, but it was never determined in what manner.
The suit claims that Benson had plans to fire Killings but did not on account of him being a Black man.
It alleges that Benson and the university had plans to terminate Killings after it was determined that he did not inform the university of the incident, and that he hired an unnamed “PR firm” to make sure he kept his job. The firm’s campaign was highlighted by a protest on Mar. 30, 2022, held by business and civil rights leaders.
“While the business and civil rights leaders admittedly did not know the facts underlying SUNY Albany’s decision to terminate, they rallied behind Defendant Killings because it was their belief that Defendant Killings, as a Black male coach, was an important figure to the community, particularly young Black males,” the lawsuit states.
Fizulich had joined the transfer portal to attend another university. The suit claims that Killings effectively blacklisted Fizulich by telling “half-truths and lies,” and that he was interviewed by many schools, all of whom told him that his situation with Killings was too “messy.”
Fizulich had played basketball as a freshman at Marquette University in 2020-21, where Killings had been his assistant coach, before transferring to UAlbany his sophomore year in 2021.
The lawsuit outlines charges for all parties involved. One charge of assault and battery, and one charge for tortious interference with contract against all parties for violation of UAlbany’s violence prevention policy. The lawsuit alleges Fizulich had mental trauma, requiring unspecified medical treatment, which was brought on by Killings’ failure to create a safe environment within the men’s basketball program. The suit also lists one charge in violation of Title VI of the Civil Rights Act against UAlbany. UAlbany, as a state-owned institution, is bound to the rules and regulations of Title VI, the lawsuit alleges.
“Here, the facts clearly and unequivocally establish that Defendant SUNY Albany discriminated against Fizulich, a white student, and a victim of a vicious assault perpetrated by Defendant Killings, a Black coach, when it chose to reverse its decision to terminate Defendant Killings because of pressure from civil rights leaders in the community, thereby ignoring Fizulich’s complaint and well-being because of his race,” the lawsuit reads.
The last charge listed is for breach of contract by Benson. The suit alleges that Benson failed to uphold UAlbany’s zero-tolerance violence prevention policy, and subsequently should have fired Killings for the assault, but reversed course because of Killings’ race.
Fizulich’s legal team is demanding compensation and punitive damages for emotional and psychological well-being, reputational damages, loss of scholarships, as well as future economic losses and future career prospects. Fizulich’s legal team hopes to have compensation determined in trial.
“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,” UAlbany said in a statement after the lawsuit was made public. “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.”
Aside from the above statement, which is being used by the athletic department and Killings, the Albany Student Press is awaiting comment from Killings, Benson, and Fizulich’s legal team. Updates will be shared as they arise.
Update (8/28): In July, the breach of contract claim was dismissed by Utica-based U.S. District Judge William Hurd. He allowed Fizulich’s claim of alleged civil rights violations to move forward, characterizing the university’s choice to retain Killings “plausibly supports a minimal inference that the decision was colored by discriminatory motivation.”