Former USC head football coach Steve Sarkisian sued the university Monday over his October firing, alleging state law required that he should have been given time off instead to get treatment for alcoholism.
"Instead of supporting ... Sarkisian when he needed its help the most, USC kicked him to the curb," the suit states.
Sarkisian, 41, filed the complaint in Los Angeles Superior Court. His allegations include breach of contract, discrimination based on disability, failure to accommodate him for his disability and retaliation.
Sarkisian is owed at least $12.6 million under his head coach contract and a marketing agreement, according to his court papers. He held the job from December 2013 until Oct. 12.
USC General Counsel, Carol Mauch Amir, issued this statement:
“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.”
Sarkisian, who was the head coach at the University of Washington before being hired by USC, was fired one day after he was placed on indefinite leave by the university amid rumors of continuing troubles with alcohol.
The lawsuit states the former coach is now sober after undergoing an "intensive rehabilitation program" that has made him ready to return to coaching. "USC has taken away his team, his income and a job that he loved," the suit states.
Clay Helton, who was initially named interim head coach, was given the permanent job by USC Athletic Director Pat Haden on Nov. 30, the day after leading the Trojans to a win over crosstown rival UCLA. Haden notified Sarkisian by email that he was being fired, the suit states.
"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 the job," the suit says. "Instead, USC ignored both its obligations under California law and the commitments it made to Steve Sarkisian."
Sarkisian's struggles became public during USC's annual "Salute to Troy" preseason pep rally on Aug. 22, when the seemingly intoxicated coach slurred his words during a speech to the crowd, criticizing several opposing teams and used an expletive before uttering the USC rally call, "Fight On."
Haden immediately rebuked the coach, with various reports saying the athletic director verbally berated Sarkisian after he was pulled off the stage.
Sarkisian publicly apologized the next day, saying without elaboration that his behavior resulted from mixing alcohol and medication.
"I sincerely apologize to my players and staff and to our fans for my behavior and my inappropriate language at our kickoff event Saturday night," Sarkisian said then. "I have a responsibility to all of them and I let them down. Pat Haden talked to me after the event about my actions and I assured him this will not happen again."