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Former WSU coach Nick Rolovich planning to sue for ‘unjust and unlawful’ termination over vaccination

UPDATED: Wed., Oct. 20, 2021

Former Washington State head football coach Nick Rolovich looks on during the Cougs’ game against Stanford on Saturday in Pullman.  (Associated Press)
Former Washington State head football coach Nick Rolovich looks on during the Cougs’ game against Stanford on Saturday in Pullman. (Associated Press)
By Colton Clark The Spokesman-Review

PULLMAN – Former Washington State football coach Nick Rolovich intends to file a lawsuit against the university, claiming an “unjust and unlawful” firing after his efforts to avoid vaccination failed.

WSU athletics director Pat Chun fired Rolovich on Monday for cause, saying the coach was not in compliance with the state’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate for state employees. Rolovich has refused to be vaccinated, and his religious exemption – based on what the second-year coach called his “devout” Catholic faith – was denied.

Pope Francis has endorsed COVID-19 vaccination, and the church has formally called the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccines “morally acceptable.”

Chun said earlier this week that because Rolovich could not fulfill the requirements of his contract worth $3.2 million annually, the firing was for cause.

Rolovich’s attorney called Chun’s decision “discriminatory and vindictive.”

“The institution also indicated that even if the exemption had been granted, no accommodation would have been made,” Rolovich’s lawyer, Brian Fahling, wrote in a statement. “As a result, Coach Rolovich will be taking legal action against Washington State University, and all parties responsible for his illegal termination.”

WSU used a process described as a blind evaluation to weigh the merit of religious exemptions. The two-person panels that make the determination to approve or deny the exemptions are not aware of the exemption seeker’s identity.

After Rolovich was fired, Fahling claims, Chun directed campus police to escort the second-year coach to his car and did not allow him to speak to Cougar players or enter his office. Fahling did not disclose how much money Rolovich would seek.

“Chun’s animus towards Coach Rolovich’s sincerely held religious beliefs, and Chun’s dishonesty at the expense of Coach Rolovich during the past year is damning and will be thoroughly detailed in litigation,” Fahling said in the statement. “Chun’s discriminatory and (vindictive) behavior has caused immeasurable harm to Coach Rolovich and his family.”

Chun also announced the firing of four WSU assistant football coaches – co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Craig Stutzmann, offensive line coach Mark Weber, defensive tackles coach Ricky Logo, and cornerbacks coach John Richardson.

“It is a tragic and damning commentary on our culture, and more specifically, on Chun, that Coach Rolovich has been derided, demonized, and ultimately fired from his job, merely for being devout in his Catholic faith,” Fahling said in his statement.

Without offering specifics, Fahling claims Chun had determined he would fire Rolovich “since at least early April.”

The release claims the university’s “deceitfulness about being unable to accommodate Coach Rolovich even if his religious exemption had been granted” is exemplified by Chun’s arranging of a “secret donor trip” that he had Rolovich attend at the height of the pandemic in July 2020. Fahling said during the trip Chun and other attendees contracted the virus, while Rolovich did not.

WSU did not return requests for an interview regarding Fahling’s claims.

Rolovich is facing a lawsuit from former receiver Kassidy Woods, who alleges that his rights were violated last year when he was kicked off the team for joining the #WeAreUnited player movement and complaining about potential COVID-19 exposure.

WSU president Kirk Schulz said Monday that fewer than 50 school employees out of about 10,000 systemwide were fired for making a similar choice to those of Rolovich and his assistants.

According to a tweet from Tulane law professor Gabe Feldman, the state of Washington has “successfully defended 42 legal challenges to its pandemic-related laws and a court recently held that the vaccine mandate was a legitimate use of the Governor’s emergency powers.”

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