Former USC Coach Files $30 Million Discrimination Suit Against University

By McCarton Ackerman 12/10/15

Steve Sarkisian is claiming USC fired him after he tried to seek treatment for alcoholism.

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Photo by Bobak Ha'Eri (Wiki Commons)

Former USC football coach Steve Sarkisian has filed a massive $30 million lawsuit against his former employer, claiming they fired him after he tried to seek treatment for alcoholism.

His lawyer, Alan Loewinsohn, told TMZ that the university breached Sarkisian's contract and discriminated against him on the basis of a disability. Documents filed this week by Sarkisian in Los Angeles County Court claim that athletic director Pat Haden "kicked him to the curb" rather than let him seek treatment. He also cited his wife's divorce filing and the stress of his job with contributing to his alcoholism. The coach is seeking at least the $12.6 million remaining on his coaching contract. According to TMZ, which broke the story, he is seeking $30 million. 

Sarkisian was fired on Oct. 12, just five games into his second season with USC and one day after he started a leave of absence. Haden hinted that he was left with no choice after Sarkisian showed up to practice the previous day, in no condition to work. Although he declined to go into details afterwards, he stated that "it was very clear to me that he is not healthy." Offensive coordinator Clay Helton has since taken over as head coach.

Sarkisian was also reprimanded before the season even began for showing up drunk at the “Salute to Troy” booster event and having to be pulled off the stage during a speech. After that incident, Sarkisian told Haden he had inadvertently mixed alcohol with medication. Although he agreed to seek outpatient treatment and not drink for the rest of the football season, he denied having a drinking problem.

But it appears that he has had issues with alcohol well before this season. Two players who were coached by Sarkisian in 2009 told the Los Angeles Times they had smelled alcohol on his breath on at least one occasion during morning team meetings. They also noted he had glazed eyes during these meetings and seemed unusually confrontational. Other players said that he regularly kept alcohol in his office and had occasionally appeared drunk on team flights.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.