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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Former WSU football coach Nick Rolovich files wrongful firing suit

Former Washington State Cougars head coach Nick Rolovich reacts during the second half of a college football game on Oct. 16, 2021.  (Tyler Tjomsland/The Spokesman-Review)
By Emry Dinman The Spokesman-Review

Former Washington State University football coach Nick Rolovich filed a lawsuit Friday claiming his rights were violated when he was fired for failing to comply with the state’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate.

The suit, filed in Whitman County Superior Court, names WSU, Athletics Director Patrick Chun and Gov. Jay Inslee.

Brian Fahling, Rolovich’s attorney , declined to provide additional comment on the filing, as did Inslee’s office.

WSU wrote in a statement Monday that Rolovich’s suit is “wholly without merit” and argued that the institution lawfully complied with the state’s mandate.

“Washington State University will vigorously defend itself against Mr. Rolovich’s claims,” wrote Phil Weiler, vice president of university marketing and communications.

Rolovich and four assistant coaches were fired by the university in October for failing to comply with the state’s mandate, which required state employees to be either fully vaccinated or have received an exemption approval. WSU denied Rolovich’s request for a religious exemption.

Rolovich appealed his firing in a letter submitted in November to Chun, but the appeal was denied. A second appeal was then sent to WSU President Kirk Schulz, who denied the appeal in December, according to court documents.

Rolovich’s suit contains eight counts, alleging breach of contract, discrimination, wrongful withholding of wages, as well as violations of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and the First and 14th Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.

Rolovich claims that the university and Inslee forced Rolovich to choose between his job and an “experimental vaccine.” He further asserted that the school could have safely accommodated him but improperly questioned the legitimacy of his religious objection to receiving the vaccine.

Chun is being sued in his personal capacity. Rolovich alleged that the athletic director improperly interfered in the school’s review of his exemption request and was openly hostile to Rolovich’s reasoning for not receiving the vaccine.

Rolovich alleges in the suit that Chun tried to get the head coach into counseling, questioned his mental health and accused him of having “extreme views” on several issues as a result of Rolovich’s decision not to get vaccinated. Chun also allegedly referred to Rolovich as a “con-man” with “situational integrity.”

Rolovich claims that Chun stated the governor tightened the personal and religious exemptions to force Rolovich’s hand because Inslee was angry that the state’s highest paid employee was asserting personal and religious objections to the vaccine mandate.

Though Rolovich filed a $25 million tort claim in April against the University, alleging he was wrongfully terminated, the suit filed Friday does not specify how much Rolovich is seeking.