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Steve Sarkisian Lost His Wrongful Termination Suit Against USC

Illustration for article titled Steve Sarkisian Lost His Wrongful Termination Suit Against USC
Photo: Stephen Dunn (Getty Images)

Current Atlanta Falcons offensive coordinator and former USC head coach Steve Sarkisian has lost his $30 million lawsuit against his old employer, which he filed in December 2015 after USC fired him for the public problems caused by his alcoholism. While coaching at USC, Sarkisian got drunk and yelled profanities at a team dinner, then later couldn’t conduct a team practice because of his drinking. USC placed Sarkisian on leave after the second incident, then fired him one day later as he was flying to a rehab facility.

Sarkisian filed the wrongful termination suit against USC, seeking the $12.6 million remaining on his salary plus additional damages. The former head coach fought his with-cause firing by arguing that now-former USC athletic director Pat Haden refused to help with his rehab. From the lawsuit:

Steve Sarkisian, surrounded by his family, called Haden back and told him on a speaker phone, “I’m not right, I need time off to get well.”

Rather than engage Mr. Sarkisian in an interactive process to determine how much time off he required and whether such leave could reasonably be accommodated, or even express any concern about his ailing employee, Haden derisively yelled, “Unbelievable! Can’t you even go back to the office to finish the day?” Steve Sarkisian replied, “No, I need to get help. I’m not right.”


All of Sarkisian’s claims, however, were denied in an arbitration hearing. While alcoholism is covered as a disability under California law, the arbitrator said that those laws do not cover “the failure to control a controllable disability,” and that Sarkisian was fired for misconduct, not his alcoholism. Sarkisian says he will not take the suit further, but that he “will respect it and move on.”

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