On Oct. 11, three days after the Washington Huskies upset USC and coach Steve Sarkisian 17-12, their former coach pleaded for help with his alcoholism to Trojans athletics director Pat Haden. But the man who hired Sarkisian away from UW in 2013 allegedly kept repeating the word, “unbelievable,” then fired him the next day — while Sarkisian was on a plane to a rehab facility.
That is among several claims in a lawsuit filed Monday by attorneys for Sarkisian in Los Angeles Superior Court for wrongful termination by USC. Sarkisian claims he has completed rehab and is sober and ready to return to coaching, but USC failed to recognize his alcohol problem as a disability, requiring an accommodation by state law, not a firing.
The 31-page complaint seeks $12.6 million in damages and alleges breach of contract, discrimination of the basis of disability and invasion of privacy.
“Instead of supporting its Head Coach, Steve Sarkisian, when he needed its help the most, USC kicked him to the curb,” the lawsuit states. “Instead of honoring the contract it made with Steve Sarkisian, USC kicked him to the curb.
“Instead of accommodating Steve Sarkisian’s disability, USC kicked him to the curb.”
In the suit, Sarkisian says the stress of his job coupled with his wife filing for divorce earlier this year furthered his alcohol dependency.
Sarkisian’s alcohol problems became public during USC’s annual booster function in August. Sarkisian claims he drank two light beers along with prescription medication for anxiety. When Sarkisian spoke at the event, his speech was slurred and he used profanity.
“Haden then met privately with Mr. Sarkisian and threatened that he could fire him on the spot,” the lawsuit said. Haden required Sarkisian to sign a letter agreeing to apologize for his behavior and to meet weekly with a therapist at USC.
The lawsuit said Sarkisian had no further alcohol-related issues, and addressed a rumor by denying the coach was intoxicated during a Sept. 26 game against Arizona State.
After the loss to Washington, where Sarkisian coached for five seasons, the coach’s “depression and anxiety worsened” and his alcohol consumption outside of work increased.