BY Art Thiel 12:23PM 12/07/2015

Sarkisian files wrongful-firing suit against USC

Former Huskies coach Steve Sarkisian is suing USC for $12.6 million, alleging wrongful termination because his alcoholism under California state law is considered a disability.

Steve Sarkisian is suing USC over his firing. / Drew Sellers, Sportspress Northwest

On Oct. 11, three days after the Washington Huskies upset USC and coach Steve Sarkisian 17-12, their former coach pleaded for help with his alcoholism to Trojans athletics director Pat Haden. But the man who hired Sarkisian away from UW in 2013 allegedly kept repeating the word, “unbelievable,” then fired him the next day — while Sarkisian was on a plane to a rehab facility.

That is among several claims in a lawsuit filed Monday by attorneys for Sarkisian in Los Angeles Superior Court for wrongful termination by USC. Sarkisian claims he has completed rehab and is sober and ready to return to coaching, but USC failed to recognize his alcohol problem as a disability, requiring an accommodation by state law, not a firing.

The 31-page complaint seeks $12.6 million in damages and alleges breach of contract, discrimination of the basis of disability and invasion of privacy.

“Instead of supporting its Head Coach, Steve Sarkisian, when he needed its help the most, USC kicked him to the curb,” the lawsuit states. “Instead of honoring the contract it made with Steve Sarkisian, USC kicked him to the curb.

“Instead of accommodating Steve Sarkisian’s disability, USC kicked him to the curb.”

In the suit, Sarkisian says the stress of his job coupled with his wife filing for divorce earlier this year furthered his alcohol dependency.

Sarkisian’s alcohol problems became public during USC’s annual booster function in August. Sarkisian claims he drank two light beers along with prescription medication for anxiety. When Sarkisian spoke at the event, his speech was slurred and he used profanity.

“Haden then met privately with Mr. Sarkisian and threatened that he could fire him on the spot,” the lawsuit said. Haden required Sarkisian to sign a letter agreeing to apologize for his behavior and to meet weekly with a therapist at USC.

The lawsuit said Sarkisian had no further alcohol-related issues, and addressed a rumor by denying the coach was intoxicated during a Sept. 26 game against Arizona State.

After the loss to Washington, where Sarkisian coached for five seasons, the coach’s “depression and anxiety worsened” and his alcohol consumption outside of work increased.



  • MrPrimeMinister

    These people are set for life. Is any sympathy warranted?

  • jafabian

    Alcoholism is a disease, not a bad habit. Many times it’s a disease handed down thru generations. I didn’t like how USC terminated Sark while he was in treatment. You’d think since Pat Haden went so hard after Sark when he was at UW he’d have him on a longer leash than he did. Hope Sark can put all this behind him.

    Fully expecting him to follow Rick Neuheisel’s route and go to the NFL for awhile, probably the Seahawks as an offensive assistant coach. Gilby didn’t do too bad doing that. And the Rickster has found his calling doing football analysis on the Pac-12 network.

    • notaboomer

      yes it is a disease but we don’t know the facts concerning the employment relationship between coach and school yet.

      • jafabian

        California law speaks for itself though. And it favors Sark. Most likely both parties will meet somewhere in the middle. I bet Haden didn’t decide on Sark’s firing. The alumni or the school board probably ordered it.

    • Pixdawg13

      Sorry. Can’t agree that it’s a disease, any more than heroin addiction is. One thing is certain–whether disease or no, actual alcoholism is self-inflicted. It’s not exactly a secret what drinking can do to a person. Sark was a party boy while here–hitting on, and having affairs with, waitresses, drinking heavily.

      I’m with rosetta_stoned–personal responsibility enters in here.

      • jafabian

        Based on your statement on your position you need to do some research on the subject. Actually, a lot of research.

  • rosetta_stoned

    Personal responsibility for your actions? Never heard of it.

  • Just Another Bullwhip

    Wow, I was at his last game at the Coliseum against UW, albeit only for one quarter, as at this stage of my life football seems a mindlessly stupid game, which is why I find it humorous watching it being intellectualized to death these days in the press, etc.
    As for Sark, filing a suit for purportedly not being treated properly as it relates to a drinking-related “disability” is probably not going to play well within the inbred fraternity of college athletic departments. Mike Price tried something like that too and ended up in El Paso, which I guess in where the Cougars are going to be spending Christmas this year. LOL

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