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Former WSU coach plans to take legal action over termination

File photo, WSU Athletics

Former Washington State University head football coach Nick Rolovich plans to take legal action against the school over his termination, an attorney said Wednesday.

Brian Fahling, representing Rolovich, said WSU’s dismissal was “unjust and unlawful,” and that the university’s action was motivated by religious discrimination and personal animus toward Rolovich, who was hired in February 2020.

Washington State said Rolovich was fired “for cause,” meaning he did not comply with state and university policies. The “for cause” distinction is an important one, because it would remove from the table $3.6 million dollars the school would owe Rolovich if he lost his job without cause. Until his termination, Rolovich was the highest-paid public employee in the state of Washington. He was paid $3.2 million dollars in 2020, according to a state database.

Rolovich applied for a religious exemption from getting vaccinated, Fahling wrote, but the application was denied. Requests for religious exemptions filed by WSU employees were reviewed by a committee whose members were drawn from the school’s HR department and the Office of Civil Rights and Compliance. The Washington Attorney General’s office was also consulted on criteria for exemptions, according to the university.

“The requests for religious exemptions are evaluated in a ‘blind’ review process,” the university said in early October. “The identities of the individuals requesting exemptions are unknown to the members of the review committee except in instances when additional information is needed through follow-up contact.”

In his statement, Fahling said Rolovich had been “derided, demonized, and ultimately fired from his job, merely for being devout in his Catholic faith."

Bishop Thomas Daly, head of the Catholic Diocese of Spokane, encourages vaccination, as does Pope Francis. But the diocese said Catholics can decline getting the shot.

Fahling also said Rolovich’s firing stemmed in part from WSU Athletic Director Pat Chun’s personal feelings toward the coach.

“Since at least early April, it became clear that Chun had already determined that Coach Rolovich would be fired,” the attorney said. He did not explain what that meant or furnish evidence to back up the assertion.

In July, Rolovich said had not been vaccinated, and indicated he did not plan to do so. The following month, he said he would follow state COVID guidelines, but did not specify whether that meant getting vaccinated. Rolovich’s refusal caused some headaches for the university’s upper-echelon leadership.

“It certainly skews the perception of our message,” WSU President Kirk Schulz told The New York Times earlier this month. “It doesn’t help when you have people who are contrary to the direction we’re going.”

Neither Rolovich nor Fahling plan to grant any interview requests at present. Fahling said only that the former coach’s allegations “will be thoroughly detailed in litigation.”

Spokane Public Radio has contacted WSU for a response, and will update this story if and when a response is released.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for fifteen years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.
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