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Steve Sarkisian sues USC over his firing, claiming school didn't accommodate his disability

The Trojans fired their head coach in October, one day after announcing he'd be taking a leave of absence, reportedly to deal with alcohol issues.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Former USC coach Steve Sarkisian has filed a lawsuit against the university, alleging that the school broke the law for firing him without allowing him to seek treatment for alcoholism, which is defined as a disability under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

The lawsuit claims that "instead of accommodating Steve Sarkisian's disability, USC kicked him to the curb," and that USC failed to follow California law, which requires it to make a "reasonable accommodation" of Sarkisian's request for time off to get help.

USC fired Sarkisian "with cause" after athletic director Pat Haden said Sarkisian showed up to a team meeting "not healthy." That came after other allegations that Sarkisian had been drunk on the job. Haden said he sent Sarkisian home after that.

However, Sarkisian says he asked for time off to get help for his alcoholism and was not given the time to do that.

On October 11, 2015, Mr. Sarkisian pleaded with his boss Pat Haden, the athletic director, to give him time off to get the help he needed. Rather than express any concern or willingness to accommodate this request from a man whose history with USC goes back 23 years to his days as a student-athlete, Haden's immediate response was to derisively repeat the phrase "Unbelievable." Shortly thereafter, Haden called back and placed Mr. Sarkisian on indefinite leave. Less than 24 hours later, while Mr. Sarkisian was on a plane travelling (sic) to get the help he needed, Haden notified Mr. Sarkisian by email that he had been fired.

The suit says that USC did not fire Sarkisian with cause, and thus owes him $12.6 million under his contract, as well as other damages for the "mental anguish" he underwent following the incident.

Sarkisian allegedly showed up drunk to a meeting. The lawsuit claims that is not the case. The suit claims he did not "appear to be normal" because he took medication for anxiety and depression — conditions that worsened after USC's record fell to 3-2 on Oct. 8 — that morning that affected him due to drinking the night before.

While there were media reports that USC officials asked Mr. Sarkisian to leave and that he had to be escorted off the USC premises, the truth is that Mr. Sarkisian made his own decision to leave and left of his own accord, driven home by his assistant. Mr. Sarkisian had never missed a single practice during his entire 15 year coaching career. However, on that day, Steve Sarkisian had finally decided that he needed some time away from sports to seek the professional help he so badly needed now.

The suit argues that Sarkisian was doing a good enough job coaching the Trojans and should have been allowed to return to the head coaching job after he received treatment. It cites multiple outlets saying Sarkisian was coaching well that season and that the leave had nothing to do with his on-field performance, plus the fact that Clay Helton, a Sarkisian assistant, eventually led the team to the Pac-12 Championship Game.


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