Attorney for ex-Washington State coach Nick Rolovich writes appeal to school in advance of lawsuit

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An attorney for fired Washington State coach Nick Rolovich has written the school a 34-page appeal of the coach’s dismissal for not getting the COVID-19 vaccine.

Rolovich was fired with cause on Oct. 18 after his religious exemption application to not receive the vaccine was denied. All state of Washington employees were required to be fully vaccinated by that date according to a mandate by Gov. Jay Inslee. Employees were able to apply for exemptions to the mandate and those were reviewed on a case-by-case basis.

After Rolovich was fired, his attorney Brian Fahling threatened legal action against the school. Since he was fired with cause, Washington State doesn’t have to pay Rolovich’s contract buyout. In the appeal letter, Fahling writes to Washington State and athletic director Pat Chun that “this is your opportunity to take a step back, re-examine your illegal and unconstitutional conduct, and adopt a different posture toward Coach Rolovich before you and the University are forced to defend your conduct in the context of a federal court civil rights action.”

Had Washington State fired Rolovich and four unvaccinated assistants without cause it would be contractually obligated to pay their buyouts. Rolovich's buyout would be north of $3 million and a pending lawsuit is a way to attempt to recoup some of that sum. 

Why Rolovich was against the vaccine

The letter gives a little more insight into Rolovich’s reasoning for declining a COVID-19 vaccine. Rolovich, a Catholic, had repeatedly refused to explain why he was against getting the vaccine while he was employed and, through his attorney, cited his faith as a reason for not getting the vaccine after he was fired.

On page 3, the letter states that Rolovich has a “religious opposition to medical research based on aborted fetal tissue.” Like many other vaccines and pharmaceuticals widely available in the United States, the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson and Johnson vaccines were derived from cell lines descended from cells taken from abortions decades ago and do not contain any fetal tissue.

The development of the vaccines is not an issue for the Catholic church, an entity that has been on the frontlines of encouraging people to get vaccinated. The church has previously said that “it is morally acceptable to receive COVID-19 vaccines that have used cell lines from aborted fetuses in their research and production processes.”

Days before Washington's mandate took effect, nearly 90% of Washington State University system employees had gotten at least one dose of the vaccine and fewer than 25% of over 400 religious exemption applications by WSU employees had been granted. 

Rolovich claims Constitutional rights were violated

Rolovich’s attorney says his client’s First and 14th Amendment rights were violated when he was fired with cause at Washington State. The letter accuses Chun of having a months-long bias against Rolovich because of the coach’s refusal to get vaccinated and claims that Chun inappropriately interfered in Washington State’s religious exemption approval process.

WSU’s review process had two steps. The first was a blind review of an employee’s application for exemption. If that application was approved it was then sent to the employee’s supervisors. The supervisors — in this case, Chun — were then given the ability to determine if the employee can continue in his job while being unvaccinated.

Fahling’s initial statement said that Chun had “indicated” that if Rolovich’s exemption had been approved then no accommodations would have been made for him to keep his job. In this letter, Fahling says that Rolovich’s application had tentatively been granted on the basis of a sincerely held religious belief based on a number of accommodations “including mask wearing, social distancing, and testing requirements.”

The letter then states the athletic department said that it was unable to agree to the accommodations for Rolovich to keep his job and outlined parts of a memo that the department sent to human resources. In that memo, the athletic department said that it had “lost significant donor commitments” because of Rolovich’s vaccination status and that Rolovich’s vaccination status had damaged the school’s reputation.

Rolovich was fired in the middle of his second season at Washington State. He came to Washington State from Hawaii, where he had coached and played quarterback.

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