Steve Sarkisian, former USC coach, filed a suit against USC alleging that the university wrongfully terminated him in October 2015. The complaint filed requests damages amounting to $12.6 million, but the plaintiff’s attorney indicated to popular media outlets that the former USC coach would be seeking substantially more than the original $12.6M. Sarkisian’s lawsuit alleges the university fired him without receiving accommodations ashe sought treatment for a “disability.”
Sarkisian’s claim is based on the classification of alcoholism as a disability. The former USC coach was on a flight taking him to enter an alcohol rehabilitation treatment center on October 12th when he received an email from the USC Athletic Director, Pat Haden. In the email, Sarkisian was advised that he was fired.
Sarkisian feels that the university failed to support him as the Head Coach when he was most in need of their help. The lawsuit states that instead of honoring the contract in place with Sarkisian and accommodating his disability, the university “kicked him to the curb.” The suit also defines Sarkisian as a “person with a disability” (at times) according to federal law due to his alcoholism in addition to the stress associated with the job of USC Head Coach that contributed to his dependency upon alcohol.
Sarkisian’s interpretation of the situation was that California law required the USC make reasonable accommodations for his disability with time off allowing him to obtain the necessary assistance and the ability to return to his job after treatment was completed. USC did not feel obligated by the referenced California law or the commitment made to Sarkisian.
A newly sober Sarkisian is now ready to return to coaching, but the university has replaced him. Sarkisian feels that the university has effectively “taken away his team, his income and a job that he loved” in not accommodating his need for treatment and holding his job for him until he successfully completed treatment. In addition, Sarkisian’s suit claims that the university’s actions were in violation of the contract in place as they refused to pay him money that he feels is owed to him according to the terms set down.
USC’s response to the claims and allegations was simple. USC’s general counsel stated that the facts were “mischaracterized” by the former coach and that the university will be defending their actions. In fact, the statement from USC’s general counsel went so far as to state that a substantial amount of the information included in the lawsuit is untrue. According to the university’s counsel, the former head coach repeatedly denied that he had a problem with alcohol to university officials. He never asked for time off for rehabilitation and he even resisted efforts on the part of the university to assist him with the issue. At that point, the university made it clear that additional incidents would result in termination by providing Sarkisian this information in writing. When additional incidents occurred, they followed through with the stated consequence: termination.
If you have questions regarding what constitutes wrongful termination or if you feel that you have been wrongfully terminated, please get in touch to discuss your situation with one of the southern California employment law attorneys at Blumenthal, Nordrehaug & Bhowmik.