Former Washington State football coach Nick Rolovich appeals firing over COVID-19 vaccination requirement

In a filing this week appealing former Washington State football coach Nick Rolovich's termination for failure to comply with the state's COVID-19 vaccination requirement, Rolovich's attorney urged athletic director Pat Chun to "reexamine [his] illegal and unconstitutional conduct," ahead of a forthcoming civil rights lawsuit in federal court.

A necessary step to allow Rolovich to pursue legal action, the appeal includes allegations that Chun was hostile toward Rolovich's "expressed religious and scientific reasoning for refusing to receive a COVID vaccine" over the course of several months. It alleges Chun referred to Rolovich as a "con-man," "selfish" and having "situational integrity" and "extreme views regarding many issues."

Washington State fired Rolovich on Oct. 18, citing his unwillingness to comply with Gov. Jay Inslee's mandate that all state employees be vaccinated against COVID-19.

The appeal, along with related documents reviewed by ESPN, show WSU's Human Resource Services department determined Rolovich was entitled to a religious exemption on Oct. 6. In a document dated Oct. 14, the university's Environmental Health and Safety department compiled a list of recommended safety procedures related to COVID-19 -- most of which are consistent with the policies that have been in place for over a year -- specific to Rolovich and what his job entailed.

In response to Human Resources Services' determination that Rolovich had documented a "sincerely held religious belief," a memo from the athletic department dated Oct. 13 objected to that finding.

"In numerous formal and informal meetings between March and August, Rolovich made it clear to Pat Chun, his supervisor and many within the Athletic Department, that he was unwilling to take the vaccine based on his independent research," the memo said. "He stated on multiple times he had done his own research, made an independent decision and came to a conclusion that he would not take the vaccine."

If an exemption request is initially approved, an employee's supervisor has the option to decide whether the university can provide the necessary accommodations, according to WSU spokesperson Phil Weiler.

The appeal did not include explicit reasoning for Rolovich's religious objections, only that he was uncomfortable sharing with Chun "his religious opposition to medical research based on aborted fetal issue, given that WSU professors have in the past publicly defend such research."

The athletic department's memo to Human Resource Services said Rolovich on Aug. 19 "disclosed he attempted to seek a medical exemption but was unable to secure the necessary documentation. He then disclosed he would elect to pursue a religious based exemption to meet the employment requirements."

The memo continued: "In that meeting, Pat Chun stated directly to Rolovich that since the start of this pandemic, Rolovich had been vocal and consistent in his opinions and skepticisms about the COVID-19 virus and the full nature of the public health emergency. He has continuously been critical of the role of the government and communicated a multitude of baseless theories with respect to vaccination."

The memo also contended he had provided other reasons for not getting the vaccine, including: It was not fully FDA approved (at the time); it would negatively affect women and fertility rates (the CDC states there is no evidence the vaccine causes fertility issues in women or men); it would "negatively impact his mortality."

Rolovich's attorney, Brian Fahling, told ESPN in an email Thursday that Rolovich "never considered applying for a medical exemption and the part about him not being able to obtain medical documentation is categorically false." Fahling provided a line from Rolovich's contemporaneous notes from the Aug. 19 meeting in which he said he told Chun he would not pursue a medical exemption because it would require Rolovich to "not be truthful to get it."

In an email, Weiler said the school will not be commenting on Rolovich's appeal, given it is an ongoing personnel matter.

The appeal was filed Tuesday, and per university policy, Chun has 10 calendar days to review it and determine whether to proceed with the termination, according to Weiler. Assuming Chun doesn't reverse course -- and there is no reason to suspect he would -- Rolovich would then have another 15 days to raise another appeal with university president Kirk Schulz.