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Federal judge dismisses Inslee, Chun from former WSU football coach Nick Rolovich’s lawsuit

By James Hanlon, The Spokesman-Review
Published: May 31, 2023, 7:47am

SPOKANE — A federal judge Tuesday dismissed Gov. Jay Inslee and Washington State University athletic director Patrick Chun from a lawsuit brought by ex-WSU football coach Nick Rolovich against his former employer for firing him after his refusal to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas O. Rice left open three claims against WSU.

Rolovich did not oppose the dismissal of Inslee and several other claims asserted against Chun and WSU.

Rice dismissed an additional religious discrimination claim against Chun, ruling that he is entitled to qualified immunity in his official role as athletic director, and that there are no facts to support Rolovich’s claim he was terminated because of his religious views.

“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,” Rice wrote in his decision.

Rolovich contends that WSU and Chun fired him without just cause. Rolovich says he should have been provided a religious exemption to a law requiring state employees to get the vaccine. The requirement has since been rescinded.

The university contends that Rolovich did not raise religious concerns about the vaccine’s development until a deadline approached for him to get the shots, and that WSU’s denial of his exemption was based on its inability to accommodate his coaching under pandemic-related guidelines and skepticism about the sincerity of his beliefs.

WSU argued that Rolovich’s accommodation request would have resulted in increased travel costs, harm to recruitment and fundraising efforts, damage to WSU’s reputation and donor commitments, in addition to an increased risk of exposure to COVID-19 to student-athletes and other coaching staff.

In Tuesday’s court order, Rice wrote that WSU needs more evidence to support its claim that accommodating Rolovich was an undue hardship.

Rice will consider allegations of state wage law violations, breach of contract and religious discrimination against WSU in summary judgment.