USC filed a motion in the Los Angeles Superior Court Wednesday opposing claims in the wrongful termination lawsuit that former football head coach Steve Sarkisian is entitled to punitive damages from the University.
Though Sarkisian is seeking $30 million in retribution for the alleged breach of contract and discrimination on the basis of disability, USC has refuted that claim in its formal response.
“It is absolutely false that Sarkisian ever admitted to having a drinking problem, to being an alcoholic or needing to seek treatment,” the University stated.
Sarkisian, whose issues with alcohol started becoming questionable after he appeared visibly intoxicated during a speech at a Salute to Troy alumni banquet, was fired by USC athletic director Pat Haden halfway through the season after a loss to Washington. USC reports state that Sarkisian told Haden that he had only two light beers during the booster event, but that mixing alcohol with a medication he had been taking for anxiety caused him to become unknowingly sedated.
Sarkisian’s civil lawsuit issued on Dec. 7 cited a phone conversation in which the coach admitted to Haden after the Washington loss that he was, “suffering from depression and anxiety” and asked for professional help. The lawsuit further argued that Sarkisian was wrongfully terminated instead of allowing the time off he requested to seek the appropriate treatment.
The recent USC filing identified a clause in Sarkisian’s five-year contract that allowed the school to fire him for reasons that included the use of, “alcohol or any substance which adversely affects Sarkisian’s ability to effectively perform his duties as a head coach.”
Rather than alerting University officials of his suffering with alcoholism, the University said Sarkisian denied that he had a drinking problem, but blamed his inability to perform the essential functions of his job on, “marital stress, lack of sleep and anxiety for which he was taking medication.” The basic responsibilities that USC motion listed as essential to performing his duties as a head coach included showing up for practice and speaking events.
The University response additionally denied that USC sports psychologist Dr. Robin Scholefield “ever treated, counseled or prescribed medication to Sarkisian as described in his lawsuit.”
Sarkisian’s lawyer, Alan Loewinsohn said in email to ESPN.com:
“Rather than just make broad sweeping conclusions, we filed a very detailed 31-page complaint that sets out much of the factual basis for Coach Sarkisian’s claims. We are anxious to have our day in Court. We remain confident that when the matter is tried the truth of those detailed allegations will be confirmed.”