A Pennsylvania judge cleared the way Thursday for former Pennsylvania State University assistant football coach Mike McQueary to proceed with a whistle-blower lawsuit against the school.

Judge Thomas Gavin ruled that ongoing criminal cases against three ex-university administrators had little bearing on McQueary's claim that he lost his job because he cooperated with state investigators prosecuting the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse scandal last year.

Penn State had sought to put the suit on hold until those criminal cases were resolved, arguing that testimony from the former officials would be key to their defending against the claims.

"The focus in the criminal proceedings is what (the) defendants knew about Sandusky's improper conduct on the day they appeared before the grand jury or met with investigators, not the reason why McQueary was let go," Gavin wrote in his ruling filed Thursday in Centre County Court.

The administrators "have no Fifth Amendment right to refuse to testify" in McQueary's case, he added.

McQueary, 38, emerged as a central figure in the case against Sandusky, testifying that he walked in on the former assistant football coach molesting a boy in a Penn State locker room shower in early 2001.

Although McQueary told investigators he alerted head coach Joe Paterno, suspended Athletic Director Tim Curley and former university vice president Gary Schultz to what he saw, Sandusky was not reported to authorities at the time.

Prosecutors have since charged Curley, Schultz and ex-Penn State president Graham B. Spanier with covering up allegations of abuse against Sandusky for years. The charges were brought based, in part, upon McQueary's testimony.

All three administrators have said that McQueary never clearly described what he saw as sexual in nature.

Sandusky is serving a minimum 30-year prison sentence for the serial sexual abuse of 10 boys.

In his lawsuit, filed in October, McQueary accused Spanier and the university of defaming his character in a statement issued shortly after Sandusky's November 2011 arrest, which expressed support for Curley and Schultz.

He also maintained that his cooperation with prosecutors led to the loss of his $140,000-a-year coaching job.

McQueary is seeking reinstatement and back pay.

Penn State declined to comment on Thursday's ruling. McQueary's attorney Elliott Strokoff did not immediately respond to requests for interview.

Contact Jeremy Roebuck at 267-564-5218, jroebuck@phillynews.com, or @jeremyrroebuck on Twitter.