Nick Rolovich, former head football coach for Washington State University, has filed a complaint against the university, the athletic director and Gov. Jay Inslee, according to court documents.
The complaint alleges Rolovich’s rights were violated during his Dec. 6, 2021, termination after refusing to comply with Washington state’s requirement for state employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
According to the complaint, Rolovich was fired after he had refused the vaccination because of his religious and personal beliefs.
Rolovich said the university claimed his refusal gave WSU just cause to terminate him and thus didn’t have to pay him the approximately three-and-a-half years remaining on his five-year contract.
According to Rolovich, his contract with the university states a termination without cause would require WSU to pay 60% of his remaining approximately $2,000,000 base salary.
Rolovich said his contract never included a provision to follow state and federal health and safety guidelines and Rolovich refused to sign a new provision that would require that in July 2021.
The complaint said that in the summer of 2020, WSU asked Rolovich if he would be willing to take out 10% of his wages, due to the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on WSU finances.
Rolovich said he agreed, but only if WSU did not withhold the 10% from his assistant coaches.
According to Rolovich, WSU withheld 10% of the salaries of his assistant coaches, despite the previous agreement.
Rolovich said WSU Director of Athletics Patrick Chun told him a request for a religious exemption would be denied, even before Inslee issued the vaccine mandate.
At a meeting on May 27, 2021, Rolovich said Chun told him that his religious beliefs were making him incapable of leading his players and that Rolovich should get counseling for “mental health issues.”
Rolovich said Chun told him he should talk to Chun’s wife because she had been in a couple of different religions that Chun described as “cults.”
After claiming his religious exemption to the vaccine, Rolovich said he was called to a meeting with Chun on Aug. 19, 2021, where Rolovich was told he had four choices: Get the vaccine, don’t get the vaccine and be fired, claim the exemption or resign.
Rolovich said he told Chun he would not resign, and Chun called Rolovich a “con man” and selfish.
According to the complaint, Rolovich believed Inslee’s mandate for state employees was because Inslee was mad that one of the highest-profile state employees had refused to get vaccinated.
Rolovich said Chun told him the Board of Regents wanted him fired, then added Rolovich now had only two options: Get vaccinated or resign.
On Aug. 20, 2021, Inslee set the mandate for all state employees to be fully vaccinated by Oct. 18, 2021.
Rolovich said that at the time of the mandate, publicly available vaccines had not been approved by the FDA yet and were still “experimental.”
On Sept. 28, 2021, Rolovich said he completed his application for religious exemption.
His application was submitted to the Human Resources Services (HRS) at WSU and was tentatively approved, provided the athletic department provided Rolovich with accommodations, including mask wearing, social distancing and more.
Rolovich said Chun responded to HRS and stated the athletic department would not agree to the accommodations and that Chun doubted Rolovich’s “sincerely held religious beliefs.”
Rolovich’s exemption request was subsequently denied and he was fired. He was escorted from the building and was not allowed to speak to WSU football players.
The complaint alleges eight counts including breach of contract, discrimination, withholding wages, and First Amendment violations.
Rolovich is asking the court for damages that include lost income, wages, liquidated damages, punitive damages, “double damages,” damages for other losses, damages to offset any federal income tax consequences resulting from awarded damages, and attorney fees.
KIRO 7 has reached out to WSU and Gov. Inslee’s office for comments. A spokesperson for Inslee’s office said they are reviewing the lawsuit and have nothing to add at this time.
A statement from a spokesperson for WSU said, “Mr. Rolovich’s lawsuit against Washington State University is wholly without merit. Washington State University carried out the Governor’s COVID-19 vaccination proclamation for state employees in a fair and lawful manner, including in its evaluation of employee requests for medical or religious exemptions and accommodations. For multiple reasons, Mr. Rolovich did not qualify, and the university firmly stands by that decision. Washington State University will vigorously defend itself against Mr. Rolovich’s claims.”
©2022 Cox Media Group