Former Washington State football coach Nick Rolovich plans to take legal action against the university for “unjust and unlawful” termination, according to a Wednesday news release from his lawyer.
Rolovich was fired for cause two days earlier after failing to comply with a state COVID-19 vaccination mandate that required state employees to be either vaccinated or receive an exemption by Monday. Rolovich applied for a religious exemption, which was denied.
Rolovich could still appeal his termination. According to his contract, Rolovich has 15 days following his dismissal to submit an appeal to university President Kirk Schulz, in which case Schulz would have 30 days to review and decide on the appeal.
“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 the release. “As a result, Coach Rolovich will be taking legal action against Washington State University, and all parties responsible for his illegal termination.”
After Rolovich was fired, Fahling claims, Athletic Director Pat Chun directed campus police to escort the second-year coach to his car and did not allow him to speak to the Cougar team, or enter his office.
The release doesn’t specify what damages Rolovich will be seeking.
WSU did not immediately respond when asked for comment.
“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.”
The release confirms that Rolovich is Catholic. Pope Francis has endorsed COVID-19 vaccines, with the church calling them “morally acceptable.”
“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,” the release said.
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 a “‘secret’ donor trip” that he had Rolovich attend at the height of the pandemic in July 2020, during which “Chun and other attendees” allegedly contracted the virus, while Rolovich did not.
WSU worked with the state attorney general’s office on the exemption requirements for students and employees. Phil Weiler, WSU vice president for marketing and communications, said requirements at WSU are consistent with the requirements of other state agencies, in which a religious exemption application starts with a series of questions to determine the sincerity of the request.
Weiler also said exemption requests were reviewed by a team that includes staff from the AG’s office and were blind. “We don’t know who the person requesting the exemption was or what their job was, so there would be no question if someone was getting preferential treatment.”
Schulz said Monday that fewer than 50 school employees out of about 10,000 systemwide were terminated for making a similar choice. Of the 437 religious exemption requests at WSU, 98 had been granted as of Oct. 6.
On Monday, Schulz lauded the effectiveness of the vaccine and commended the majority of students and staff for complying with the state’s mandate.
“While much has been made of the relatively small number of university employees who are not complying with the Governor’s mandate, we are immensely gratified that nearly 90 percent of WSU employees and 97 percent of our students are now vaccinated,” he said in a statement. “WSU students, faculty, and staff understand the importance of getting vaccinated and wearing masks so that we can safely return to in-person learning and activities. I am proud of all those members of our community who have set the example and taken the steps to protect not just themselves, but their fellow Cougs.”
Of the 63,000 Washington state workers who were subject to Gov. Jay Inslee’s vaccine mandate, 1,887 quit or have been terminated following Monday’s deadline, according to the Office of Financial Management. Of the state workers still employed, more than 92% are verified as vaccinated.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson tweeted Monday: “Our office remains undefeated in 42 legal challenges to these orders.”
Rolovich is currently 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.
Along with Rolovich, four Cougar assistants – Craig Stutzmann (co-offensive coordinator/quarterbacks), Mark Weber (offensive line), Ricky Logo (defensive tackles) and John Richardson (cornerbacks) – were also fired Monday.
Seattle Times staff contributed to this report.