Former University of Southern California head football coach Steve Sarkisian sued the university on Monday, claiming that his mid-season firing in October, five games into his second season as coach, amounted to a breach of contract and discrimination. Sarkisian is after the some $12.6 million left on his contract, as well as damages for “extreme mental anguish.”
At the center Sarkisian’s dismissal was his struggle with alcohol, which came to a head after Sarkisian appeared drunk at a preseason booster event called Salute to Troy, and was followed by a series of alcohol-related incidents, including reports that he was drunk during a game. The lawsuit says USC’s firing of Sarkisian amounts to discrimination on the basis of a disability, alcoholism. “California law required USC to make the reasonable accommodation of giving Steve Sarkisian time off to get help for his disability and then return to the job,” the suit says. “Instead, USC ignored both its obligations under California law and the commitments it made to Steve Sarkisian.”
Here’s more on the timeline presented in the suit from the Los Angeles Times:
The lawsuit said Sarkisian had no alcohol-related issues following Salute to Troy, and pointedly denied that the coach was intoxicated during a Sept. 26 game against Arizona State. However, the lawsuit said, after Washington, where Sarkisian coached for five seasons prior to coming to USC, upset the Trojans, 17-12, on Oct. 8, the coach’s “depression and anxiety worsened” and his alcohol consumption outside of work increased. On Oct. 11, the lawsuit said, Sarkisian arrived at USC for a team meeting but did not feel right after drinking the previous night. The lawsuit said Sarkisian wasn’t intoxicated at the meeting, but had taken prescription medication before the gathering and that his anxiety and depression were “spiraling out of control in his mind.”
Sarkisian realized he needed help and left USC of his own volition before that afternoon’s practice, the lawsuit said. The lawsuit said Sarkisan was “upset, teary and nearly hyperventilating” before finally calling Haden on a speaker phone and asking for time off…Haden directed Sarkisian to speak to a USC sports psychologist who previously counseled the coach and placed him on leave. The next day, Sarkisian took a noon flight to an in-patient treatment facility. When he landed, the lawsuit said, he learned Haden had fired him when the coach saw a letter of termination attached to an email.
USC has not commented on the lawsuit.