Earlier this fall, the University of Southern California made headlines when they fired highly successful head football coach Steve Sarkisian. Sarkisian, while successful on the sidelines, was having serious problems in his life, which included his battle with alcoholism. He not only admitted to being an alcoholic, but it is the basis for his recently filed wrongful termination lawsuit after he lost his job as Trojans head coach.
According to a recent news article from the Pacific Standard, people started becoming concerned about the health and wellbeing of the head coach, and this only become worse when he allegedly missed a practice in October of this year. He was then alleged to have shown up to a team booster and preseason game clearly intoxicated. He was fired shortly after this incident.
Now, Sarkisian, has filed a lawsuit against University of Southern California claiming the school did not make reasonable accommodations for his disability, which is alcoholism, and therefore his termination was wrongful. He also filed a breach of contract claim in connection with the wrongful termination action in the California courts.
In his pleadings, Sarkisian, through counsel, said that the university should have given him an opportunity to seek medical treatment to fight his addiction, while being able to keep his job. He said that his alcoholism was caused or at the very least fueled by his wife’s decision to divorce him early this year, along with the general stress of his job as a head football coach at the University of Southern California.
The main issue is whether or not someone can be fired for being an alcoholic. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), alcoholism is listed as a disability. This does not necessarily mean someone cannot be fired under the ADA for being an alcoholic, but it does mean they cannot be treated worse than someone who is not an alcoholic based upon the disability of alcoholism. This is true, under the ADA, with employees disciplined, even in cases where the conduct being disciplined was a direct result of alcoholism.
While Los Angeles employment law essentially says that a person cannot be fired for being an alcoholic without the employer first attempting to make reasonable accommodations, this is not always the case. Additionally, the university says that Sarkisian was not fired for being an alcoholic. They alleged he was terminated for being dishonest with the university about whether or not he was in fact an alcoholic, and that was a violation of his contract. Defendant claims they asked on several occasions if he had a problem with alcohol, and he repeatedly denied being an alcoholic. They also say the evidence will show that he never asked for time off to seek treatment and opposed any effort by the university to get him the help he needed.
However, it should be noted that accusing an employee of dishonesty, and making that the reason for termination, is nothing new. In the wake of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, employers would say prospective employees lied on their applications, and it had nothing to do with race-based discrimination.
Contact the employment attorneys at Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Orange County, Riverside and Los Angeles. Call 949.375.4734.
Does the University of Southern California’s Ex-Coach Have a Case?, December 8, 2015, Pacific Standard, by Max Ufberg
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Allen v. Chicago – Overtime Pay for Smartphone Use After-Hours, Aug. 10, 2015, Orange County Employment Attorney Blog