‘This is your opportunity to take a step back’: Former WSU coach Nick Rolovich appeals dismissal over vaccine mandate
Former WSU football coach Nick Rolovich is not giving up in his fight against his former employer. In an appeal letter dated this week, Rolovich’s attorney said the university has a chance to reevaluate its decision before having to defend itself in court.
WSU fired Rolovich last month because he refused to get a COVID vaccine. His request for a religious exemption was also denied.
Shortly after, Rolovich’s attorney said Rolovich intends to sue.
For the first time in the Rolovich saga, the document details Rolovich’s assertion that he won’t get vaccinated because he disagrees with medical research based on aborted fetal tissue.
The COVID vaccines do not contain aborted fetal tissue, but some of the research and early production used aborted fetal cell lines from past decades.
Rolovich’s attorney Brian Fahling addressed a 34-page letter to WSU Director of Athletics Pat Chun. In it, Fahling said “This is your opportunity to take a step back, reexamine 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.”
In the appeal, Rolovich claims Chun was “openly hostile toward Coach Rolovich’s religious and scientific objections to the vaccine.”
He details conversations he reportedly had with Chun in the months leading up to the vaccine deadline.
Rolovich said he met with Chun on May 24. In that meeting, Fahling writes that “Mr. Chun stated he was worried about Coach Rolovich’s mental health and then accused Coach Rolovich of having extreme views regarding many issues… Coach Rolovich told Mr. Chun that the only thing he puts above the team is his faith and his family.”
The appeal says the two met again on May 27. According to Rolovich, “Mr. Chun told Coach Rolovich that the Coach’s beliefs were making him incapable of leading his players.” He said Chun also tried to encourage Rolovich to get into counseling and, according to the letter, “Mr. Chun offered his wife as someone the Coach could talk to because she had been in a couple different religions he referred to as ‘cults.’”
Rolovich says Chun called him into a meeting August 19, after Governor Inslee announced the vaccine requirement for state employees. Chun reportedly told Rolovich that he had four choices: get the vaccine; don’t get the vaccine and get fired; claim an exemption; or resign immediately. Rolovich said he wouldn’t resign and says Chun told him he had “situational integrity.”
Rolovich claims Chun told him that Inslee only created the mandate to come after Rolovich and WSU.
The former coach has never publicly stated what religious beliefs keep him from getting the COVID vaccine.
“Coach Rolovich was also uncomfortable because he did not know how Washington State University would react to him sharing his religious opposition to medical research based on aborted fetal tissue, given that WSU professors have in the past publicly defended such research,” Fahling writes.
It’s the same reason given by nearly every Spokane Schools employee who asked for an exemption. All of those exemptions were granted; all of the employees were given accommodations allowing them to keep their jobs.
DISAGREEMENT OVER THE RELIGIOUS EXEMPTION REQUEST
Part two of the appeal letter details apparent confusion over Rolovich’s religious exemption request.
According to the attorney, WSU’s exemption committee initially approved the request, saying Rolovich articulated a “sincerely held religious belief.” Fahling said Chun was notified and told of possible accommodations that Rolovich could take, including wearing a mask and socially distancing.
The letter says the athletic department replied that it could not accommodate the request.
According to Rolovich’s attorney, WSU Athletics said accommodating an unvaccinated head coach would lead to an “undue hardship for WSU Athletics given his assigned duties and responsibilities.”
The memorandum from WSU Athletics reportedly says that WSU had already lost significant donor commitments over the vaccination decisions of its football staff. Also, that “the damage to the mission and reputation of the University posed by this situation cannot be understated, nor can it be resolved by any accommodation.”
Chun notified Rolovich on October 18 that he was being terminated. One minute before he was called to that meeting, Rolovich said he was notified that his religious exemption request was denied.
ISSUES WITH THE PROCESS
Rolovich’s attorney claims the entire process was unfair, as the blind exemption request was tainted when Chun was allowed to weigh in.
“We do not know whether the University has kept its promises and followed its policy in other instances,” Fahling writes. “But we know for certain that here it did not.”
“We now know that Mr. Chun made good on his threat [to fire Rolovich if he did not comply],” Fahling writes. ” He intervened and forced the University to reopen its sincerity determination to make sure that the process reached his predetermined, preannounced conclusion. Given Mr. Chun’s hostility toward Coach Rolovich and his convictions, and the substantial pressure Mr. Chun was under from University leadership and Olympia, it is hard to imagine a less neutral decisionmaker.
Rolovich’s attorney claims the governor and the university have shown hostility towards those who requested religious exemptions. However, statewide data shows most religious exemption requests were approved. As of October 18, the Washington Office of Financial Management shows 4,943 statewide employees asked for religious exemption requests; 208 of them were denied.
WSU’s numbers for exemption requests haven’t been updated since October 5. At that point, WSU had granted 98 of 437 employee religious exemption requests, but many had not been processed.
DEBATE OVER ACCOMMODATIONS
Rolovich argues that accommodations could have been made without jeopardizing the safety of others. It cites data that shows the median infection survival rate for COVID-19 is 99.7 percent.
His attorney also uses the claim that “vaccinated individuals are at least as likely as unvaccinated individuals to be shedding live virus.”
Overall, the appeal points to activities Rolovich was doing with the team before the vaccine mandate deadline, saying it was safe and should be allowed to continue.
The letter also points to instances where Chun was photographed unmasked. He calls out the WSU Coaches Show, where current interim Coach Jake Dickert and two players were on-camera, unmasked.
Chun and Dickert are both vaccinated.
The letter also cites a recent report of Pat Chun being “trespassed” from two Pullman businesses. In that case, an insurance agent and city council member say Chun threatened to harm his business because the councilman’s daughter posted video of a party at Chun’s home where people were unmasked.
No criminal case was pursued. The video of the party at Chun’s home was outdoors and there is no state mask requirement for outdoor events with fewer than 1,000 people.
Fahling’s letter concludes by saying “WSU and Mr. Chun had a choice when Coach Rolovich raised a religious exemption to the Governor’s vaccine mandate.” He says they could have given Rolovich a fair hearing, but instead “ran roughshod over their policies and Coach Rolovich’s rights because they saw his religious beliefs as an embarrassment.”
Fahling calls any reputational damage to WSU “self-inflicted.”
Rolovich’s attorneys remain poised to file a lawsuit against Chun and the university, but that has not yet been filed.
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