Former head coach files lawsuit after being fired for religious objections to COVID-19 vaccine

The coach is seeking damages due to loss of past and future income as well as legal fees totaling $25 million according to the Seattle Times.

From May 24, 2020, to October 19, 2020, the university athletic director repeatedly criticized and demeaned the head coach due to his religious beliefs.

Former Washington State University (WSU) football head coach Nick Rolovich filed a lawsuit on Nov. 11 against the university and the Director of Athletics, Patrick Chun, after he was fired for not receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Rolovich is seeking damages due to loss of past and future income as well as legal fees totaling $25 million, according to the Seattle Times.   

The 32-page lawsuit details a long drawn out struggle between Rolovich and Chun after the head coach expressed his hesitance to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in 2020. 

WSU attempted to force all coaching staff to sign an amendment to their employment agreements that would require them to “follow all federal, state, and local health directives, as well as university policies related to health and safety,” the lawsuit reads. 

While some coaches signed the amended agreement, Rovolich never signed, leaving his contract without any mandatory requirements regarding following health directives.

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From May 24, 2020, to October 19, 2020, Chun repeatedly criticized and demeaned Rovolich due to his religious beliefs.

The lawsuit reads that in May, Chun expressed “he was worried about Mr. Rovolich’s mental health and accused him of having extreme views regarding many issues.”

Chun also compared Rovolich’s religious beliefs to a cult and suggested that the coach meet with Chun’s wife “because she had been in a couple of different religions he referred to as ‘cults.’”

In an Aug. 16 meeting, Chun stated that Governor Jay Inslee was planning on issuing a vaccine mandate for all state employees and “warned Mr. Rovolich that any religious exemption request he submitted would be scrutinized to no end.”

Rolovich completed and submitted his application for a religious exemption to WSU’s Human Resource Services (HRS) on Sept 28. HRS approved his exemption on Oct. 6. 

“HRS notified Mr. Chun that the University had completed its ‘good faith review’ process and had determined that Mr. Rovolich was entitled to a religious exemption…because it found that he had articulated a ‘sincerely held religious belief’ that prevent him from complying with the Governor’s mandate,” the lawsuit stated. 

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Chun, however, replied to HRS and sent two memorandums disputing HRS’ findings, claiming Rovolich had previously expressed other reasons for refusing the vaccine and “cast doubt on his claimed sincerely held religious belief.”

The memorandums contained no evidence of such claims, according to the lawsuit. 

After several weeks of back and forth, Rovolich received notice on Oct. 18 that WSU was “unable to approve [his] request for an exemption and accommodation based on a sincerely held religious belief, practice, or observance.”

On the same day, Rolovich was notified that he was fired, effective immediately, with cause. A security officer escorted Rolovich out of the building. 

Rovolich filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on February 14, 2022, and received the right to sue on Aug. 16, 2022. 

The university gave a prepared statement to Campus Reform, calling the lawsuit “without merit” and stating the “university firmly stands by [its] decision.”

Campus Reform contacted Rolovich, Chun, WSU, and HRS. This article will be updated accordingly. 

Follow @kliseanderson on Twitter.