What Steve Sarkisian Needs to Prove to Win His Discrimination Case—and Why It’s So Hard

December 9, 2015 – In The News
the LexBlog Network

Thomas R. Basta was featured in The LexBlog Network article, “What Steve Sarkisian Needs to Prove to Win His Discrimination Case—and Why It’s So Hard.” Full text can be found in the December 9, 2015, issue, but a synopsis is below.

After being fired by the University of Southern California (USC) due to drinking problems, former head football coach Steve Sarkisian has filed a complaint against the school. Fox Rothschild’s Thomas Basta finds it interesting that it is not a straightforward discrimination case.

“There’s really two cases: The first is that USC breached his contract, and he was not terminated with cause, as defined in his contract. If a judge agreed with him on that USC could be liable to pay him for the rest of his contract. And on top of that he’s claiming discrimination against his alcoholism,” said Basta. “This case is an interesting interplay between a breach of contract case, and a discrimination case, all tied together.”

USC is arguing that the alcoholism had nothing to do with their decision to let go of the former head coach and that it had everything to do with him coming to work inebriated on more than one occasion.

“He alleges they failed to engage in the interactive process: He says he went to them and said ‘I’m an alcoholic and need to make some accommodations for me,’ and he’s alleging they didn’t do that. That’s a valid claim to make, saying the employer failed to accommodate his disability, but the problem is if he’s found to be intoxicated on the workplace this whole case is going to turn on that,” said Basta, who says any sort of company manual is probably going to have a disclaimer stating that being under the influence on-the-clock is an offense worthy of disciplinary action.

“Technically if he comes to them and says ‘I’m an alcoholic and I need help,’ they do have some obligation to try to accommodate that. But they do not have a duty to accommodate him coming into the workplace drunk.”

If Sarkisian’s complaint makes it to trial, USC may present witnesses who will testify that he participated in drinking on the job which he will have to prove otherwise.

“Employers can’t discriminate against employees for alcoholism, but they can take action for the act of drinking on the job,” said Basta. “If the proof is there for USC then this whole thing could fall apart for Sarkisian.”