Former Washington State head football coach Nick Rolovich’s wrongful termination lawsuit was dealt a blow in federal court on Tuesday. Judge Tom Rice has ruled to dismiss Rolovich’s suits against both Washington Governor Jay Inslee or WSU Director of Athletics Pat Chun. His case against Washington State University itself remains pending.
The lawsuit dates back to October 2021 when Rolovich was terminated as WSU head coach after failing to fulfill Washington’s requirement for state employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19. Much of Rolovich’s wrongful termination suit stems from the denial of his religious exemption request. WSU, Inslee and Chun have all files motions to dismiss the lawsuit.
KXLY News in Spokane reports that while Rolovich did not dispute the motion to dismiss the lawsuit against Inslee, he did take exception with the motion to dismiss the lawsuit against Chun.
In his original suit Rolovich, who asked for a religious exemption due to his Catholic faith, claimed that Chun was “hostile” toward Rolovich throughout the process. In his ruling, however, Judge Rice said that no matter how Chun felt about Rolovich and his decision, he had the legal right to act the way he did.
“Even if Chun personally disagreed with Plaintiff’s reasons for not getting vaccinated and urged Plaintiff to comply with the Proclamation, his actions do not rise to a constitutional violation,” Rice wrote in his decision via KXLY-TV. “This Court and many others around the country have consistently found COVID-19 vaccine mandates for state employees are facially neutral and generally applicable, and terminating an employee for failing to comply with a vaccine mandate is a permissible employment action.”
In addition, Rice ruled that Rolovich failed to prove to the university that he was terminated because of his religious beliefs. Rolovich did not raise his opposition to the vaccine mandate on religious grounds until August of 2021.
“Any allegations of coercion prior to that date cannot support a free exercise claim because it was not evident [Rolovich] possessed religious beliefs,” Rice wrote in his decision.
Chun and Inslee will no longer be listed as defendants on Rolovich’s lawsuit, but his case against the University is still pending.
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