‘We were thankful we were heard’: Former QU tennis coach wins defamation lawsuit against former student-athlete

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QUINCY — Brian Holzgrafe exited the U.S. Courthouse in Springfield last Thursday to a sight that brought him to tears.

“My wife and I drove away seeing an angel in the sky with the sunset and we just praised God that we were heard,” Holzgrafe said. “We were thankful we were heard.”

Seven years after the former Quincy University men’s and women’s tennis coach was falsely accused of misconduct, which included having an inappropriate sexual relationship with one of his players, Holzgrafe won a defamation lawsuit against Daniel Lozier, the former QU student-athlete who levied the accusations.

In a case tried before a jury in the U.S. District Court, Holzgrafe was awarded $2.04 million in general and special damages — $1 million each for damage to his reputation and emotional distress and $40,000 in lost wages — and $874,000 in punitive damages. The jury deliberated for two hours.

According to court documents, Lozier did not deny “ making statements regarding Mr. Holzgrafe to both his mother and his girlfriend that Holzgrafe had sex with a student on the tennis team.” Lozier did not dispute “this rumor was false and that he was aware that Mr. Holzgrafe was married at the time of making these statements.”

Also according to court documents, Lozier did not object to a ruling he “made statements to his mother and girlfriend that may be considered defamatory per se.”  

“In a court system, where they break it down minute by minute, it was without a doubt evident I did nothing wrong,” Holzgrafe said. “I thank the good Lord for the people who came forward and just told the truth. When you’re in that desperate mode and you’re begging for the truth, you kind of lose hope it will ever come out.

“For things to finally end up in a jury’s hands, the jury spoke loudly.”

In 2017, following the initial accusations against Holzgrafe, Quincy University conducted a Title IX investigation in which it found the accusations to be false. In 2018, Lozier filed a $10 million Title IX lawsuit against the university, naming Holzgrafe in the claim, alleging retaliation and a hostile environment after he provided testimony to the QU administration during the investigation.

That suit also claimed intentional infliction of emotional distress, breach of contract, estoppel, public disclosure of private facts, false light negligent supervision and negligent retention.

Holzgrafe filed counterclaims against Lozier in July 2019 for defamation and false light, according to court documents, for spreading rumors about Holzgrafe that were “made willfully, maliciously, purposefully and deliberately.”

According to Mike Curley, who writes for the Law360 website, Lozier settled his claims with the school in February 2022 and voluntarily dismissed his claims against Holzgrafe in March 2022, according to court documents, while Holzgrafe dropped his false light claim in early April just before the trial began.

“When you are accused of such a taboo accusation, you are stripped of everything that you are,” Holzgrafe said. “And when you didn’t deserve it, when you did nothing to spawn that forward, that sense of helplessness and hopelessness was only overmatched by our faith.

“I thank God for my family, my wife, my friends. The damage is with the people who don’t see you in the face or talk to you in the face. It’s an opinion everyone grasps with the magnitude of this lawsuit (filed by Lozier). It really tried to validate anything accused. It was an incredibly powerful lawsuit against the university in which I was wrongfully named and defamed.”

In Illinois, there are five categories of statements that are considered defamatory per se: one, words that impute a person has committed a crime; two, words that impute a person is infected with a loathsome communicable disease; three, words that impute a person is unable to perform or lacks integrity in performing her or his employment duties; four, words that impute a person lacks ability or otherwise prejudices that person in her or his profession; and five, words that impute a person has engaged in adultery or fornication. 

U.S. District Judge Sue Myerscough found Holzgrafe’s case met two of the five criteria and sent the case to a jury trial.

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