USC described former football coach Steve Sarkisian’s lawsuit against the school as “full of half truths” and “outright falsehoods” in a filing in Los Angeles Superior Court.
The 14-page motion to send the case to arbitration pushed back against several claims in the lawsuit Sarkisian filed last month that alleged breach of contract and discrimination on the basis of disability.
In the lawsuit, Sarkisian accused USC Athletic Director Pat Haden of abruptly firing him in October instead of allowing him to seek treatment for alcoholism.
“It is absolutely false that Sarkisian ever admitted to having a drinking problem, to being an alcoholic or needing to seek treatment,” the USC filing said. “The truth is he denied ever having a drinking problem, but blamed his inability to perform the essential functions of his job on marital stress, lack of sleep and anxiety for which he was taking medication.”
The filing said that Sarkisian’s five-year contract with USC included a clause allowing the school to fire him for several reasons, including “using alcohol or any substance which adversely affects Sarkisian’s ability to effectively perform his duties as head coach.”
USC fired Sarkisian with cause; he’s seeking the $12.6 million remaining on his deal plus unspecified damages.
Sarkisian’s Dallas-based attorney, Alan Loewinsohn, dismissed the USC response.
“Have you ever heard of a defendant who didn’t claim that the facts asserted against them are false?” Loewinsohn said. “What is relevant is what will be proven in court. We stand behind the facts in our 31-page complaint and look forward to proving them in court.”
Sarkisian’s off-field issues came into public view in August during USC’s Salute to Troy event. The coach uttered a profanity and slurred words when he spoke. In the lawsuit, Sarkisian said that he had consumed two light beers and medication for anxiety.
The lawsuit said Sarkisian’s alcohol consumption outside of work increased, as did his “depression and anxiety,” following USC’s upset loss to Washington on Oct. 8. Sarkisian coached at Washington for five seasons before coming to USC in 2013.
According to the lawsuit, Sarkisian didn’t feel himself and realized he needed professional help after conducting a morning team meeting Oct. 11. The lawsuit recounted a tearful phone conversation in which Sarkisian asked Haden for time off to get professional help.
Haden fired Sarkisian the following day while the coach was en route to an out-of-state treatment facility.
“It is absolutely false that Pat Haden, the trustees or anyone else at USC was out to ‘fire’ Sarkisian because of losses on the football field,” the filing said.
USC added in the filing that Sarkisian “could not perform basic job responsibilities, including showing up for practice or speaking events” and that he “set a poor example” for members of the team.
The filing also denied that a USC sports psychologist “ever treated, counseled or prescribed medication to Sarkisian” as described in his lawsuit.
“Plaintiffs should not be allowed to use the judicial system as a bully pulpit in an attempt to litigate the case through the press,” the filing said, “and spread misinformation in the process, rather than through the arbitral forum to which all parties agreed.”
Sarkisian’s lawsuit said he had completed treatment, was sober and ready to return to coaching.
MORE USC COVERAGE