Steve Sarkisian files wrongful termination lawsuit against USC

Maya Dondonyan | Daily Trojan

Maya Dondonyan | Daily Trojan

Former USC head coach Steve Sarkisian has filed a wrongful termination lawsuit against the University. The 31-page complaint filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Monday said that USC fired Sarkisian and “kicked him to the curb”, rather than supporting him “when he needed its help the most,” while suffering from alcoholism in October.

The suit states that on Oct. 11, a few days after USC lost at home to Sarkisian’s former program Washington, the second-year head coach pleaded with athletic director Pat Haden to give him time off to get the help he needed to treat his alcoholism, a disability recognized by medical experts and California law.

That same day, Haden placed Sarkisian on indefinite leave and fired him less than 24 hours later. According to the suit, Haden informed Sarkisian of his termination via e-mail, while he “was on a plane to get the help he needed” at an inpatient rehabilitation facility.

The complaint stated that 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 his job. Sarkisian is now suing for at least the $12.6 million he was owed by USC under contract, as well as other compensatory and punitive damages.

“Although Steve Sarkisian has now completed an intensive rehabilitation program, is sober and ready to return to coaching, USC has taken away his team, his income and a job that he loved,” the suit read.

The suit as a whole provides a detailed account of the interactions between Sarkisian and the 62-yeard old Haden, dating back to the Salute to Troy incident, where Sarkisian looked to be inebriated, slurred his words and dropped an expletive while delivering a speech in front of USC alumni and donors. According to the suit, Sarkisian had two beers with former USC Assistant Athletic Director Mark Jackson and newly appointed head coach Clay Helton prior to the event and mixed the alcohol with two different medications that had been prescribed to him for anxiety.

After the incident, Haden met with Sarkisian privately and threatened to fire him on the spot. Haden also made Sarkisian sign a letter, requiring him to publicly apologize and attend weekly counseling sessions with a therapist, according to the complaint.

USC’s General Counsel, Carol Mauch Amir, responded to the suit with a statement on Monday afternoon:

“Much of what is stated in the lawsuit filed today by Steve Sarkisian is patently untrue.  While the university does not as a matter of practice comment on personnel matters or litigation, the record will show that Mr. Sarkisian repeatedly denied to university officials that he had a problem with alcohol, never asked for time off to get help, and resisted university efforts to provide him with help. The university made clear in writing that further incidents would result in termination, as it did.  We are profoundly disappointed in how Mr. Sarkisian has mischaracterized the facts and we intend to defend these claims vigorously.”

The suit comes to the forefront two days after the Trojans loss to Stanford in the Pac-12 Championship, and just a week after Haden named Helton the team’s permanent head coach.

This article was updated at 6:23 pm.