The University of Southern California was hit Monday with a breach of contract and wrongful termination suit filed by former football coach Steve Sarkisian in California state court, saying the school discriminated against him for his alcoholism disability by firing him in October.
The complaint was filed in California Superior Court in Los Angeles and brings 14 claims, including ones of disability discrimination and invasion of privacy, and seeks payment of $12.6 million under Sarkisian’s head coach contract and a separate marketing agreement, along with punitive damages to be determined at trial.
The suit is the first time Sarkisian has provided his own account of his highly publicized Oct. 12 firing, which followed an earlier incident at a USC pep rally in which Sarkisian, appearing inebriated, addressed the audience using an expletive with USC’s motto “Fight On.”
Following that incident, USC athletic director Pat Haden had Sarkisian agree to attend weekly counseling sessions with a therapist and avoid similar incidents in the future, according to the complaint. Sarkisian also detailed the pressures the he faced in one of college football’s most high-profile positions, along with his marital problems, depression and anxiety, which ultimately furthered his alcohol dependency.
After losing a game to the University of Washington in October, Sarkisian skipped a team practice the following day, saying he was not feeling well after drinking alcohol the night before.
During a phone conversation, Haden yelled at Sarkisian, saying, “Unbelievable! Can’t you even go back to the office to finish the day?” Sarkisian replied that he could not since he was “not right” and sought to enter rehab at an inpatient treatment facility, according to the complaint.
Haden put Sarkisian on an indefinite leave of absence and fired him the following day, the suit said.
USC general counsel Carol Mauch Amir said in a statement issued Monday that many of Sarkisian’s assertions in the suit are “patently untrue.”
Amir said the record will show that the coach repeatedly denied he had alcohol problems, never asked for time off to get help and resisted the school’s efforts to provide him with help.
The school has declined further comment, only to say that they will vigorously defend themselves against Sarkisian’s lawsuit.