By: Alex Kirby
The former head coach for Washington State University’s football team, Nick Rolovich, was terminated on October 18, 2021 for failing to get vaccinated for COVID-19. Coach Rolovich’s termination comes as a result of Washington Governor Jay Inslee’s coronavirus vaccine mandate, which required that any state employees who failed to be vaccinated for COVID-19 by October 18, 2021, would be terminated, unless they qualified for an exemption, which can be granted to Health Care Providers and Workers for State Agencies who (1) qualify under laws that protect those with disabilities (such as the Americans With Disabilities Act) or (2) have a sincerely held religious belief that prevents them from fulfilling the mandate. Rolovich made his request for exemption on a religious basis, submitting a statement “regarding the way in which the requirements of [the] order conflict with [his] religious observance, practice or belief.”
Rolovich’s religious exemption request was then heard by a panel from the University. This panel worked with the State Attorney General’s office to establish the process to evaluate state employee exemption requests. This process required the removal of any and all identifying information prior to evaluation by a trained panel, thus eliminating the potential for biased decisions. In his request for religious exemption, Rolovich cited his devout Catholicism as his rationale for not getting vaccinated.
In the wake of his firing, Rolovich has retained attorney Brian Fahling, who issued a press release on October 20, 2021 regarding Rolovich’s termination. In the press release Fahling claims that Rolovich was denied the exemption not because his request lacked merit, but because the Washington State University Athletic Director, Pat Chun, had already determined back in “at least early April” that Rolovich would be fired. The release asserts that Chun held an animus towards Rolovich’s Catholic beliefs and that “Chun’s discriminatory and vindictive behavior has caused immeasurable harm to Coach Rolovich and his family.” Regardless of Chun’s alleged behavior, Rolovich’s request for religious exemption for his Catholic beliefs was likely to fail on its merits, as the Pope himself has gone on record stating his support for the vaccine and advocating that all members of the Catholic Church get vaccinated.
Coach Rolovich is likely seeking significant damages from Washington State University, as he was the highest paid public employee in the state of Washington. Rolovich earned $3,000,000 per year in salary and bonuses, with a contract that was set to run through June 30, 2025. Rolovich’s contract also included a termination pay clause that entitles him to 60 percent of his remaining base salary of $2,000,000 per year if he were fired without cause by the University. The developments in this case will be interesting to follow, as this is the first instance of a Division I NCAA head coach being fired for noncompliance with a COVID-19 vaccination mandate. Given the number of public universities with prominent athletic programs, the outcome of this case may establish a new precedent that has a massive effect on intercollegiate athletics.
 Jon Wilner, Commentary: Even if Nick Rolovich’s lawsuit is successful, WSU comes out ahead. The saga is over, Seattle Times (Oct. 21, 2021, 8:42 PM), https://www.seattletimes.com/sports/wsu-cougar-football/commentary-even-if-nick-rolovichs-lawsuit-is-successful-wsu-comes-out-ahead-the-saga-is-over/.
 Press Release, Governor Jay Inslee, Proclamation by the Governor Amending Proclamation 20-05, et seq. 21-14 COVID-19 Vaccination Requirement (Aug. 9, 2021) (available at https://www.governor.wa.gov/sites/default/files/
 Wilner, supra note 1.
 Press Release, Brian Fahling, The Termination of Washington State Football Coach Nick Rolovich was Unjust and Unlawful (Oct. 20, 2021) (available at https://dailyevergreen.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/10/Press-Release-10.20.21.pdf).
 Devin Watkins, Pope Francis urges people to get vaccinated against Covid-19, Vatican News, (Aug. 18, 2021, 6:30 AM), https://www.vaticannews.va/en/pope/news/2021-08/pope-francis-appeal-covid-19-vaccines-act-of-love.html.
 Tim Stelloh, Washington State University fires head football coach for refusing Covid-19 vaccine, NBCNews (Oct. 18, 2021, 6:52 PM), https://www.nbcnews.com/news/sports/washington-state-s-head-football-coach-fired-refusing-covid-19-n1281811.
 Details on Nick Rolovich’s WSU contract released, CougFan.Com, (Jan. 24, 2020), https://247sports.com/college/washington-state/Article/Nick-Rolovich-Washington-State-Cougars-football-details-on-contract-142690818/.