Tuesday, December 8, 2015

What does a fired college football coach’s lawsuit mean for association executives?


If your association’s CEO (or any other staffer) showed up “slightly drunk” at a member meeting or a board meeting, how would your association react? What steps would the association board take?

Even if not a football fan, association professionals should be following the case of a football coach fired from the University of Southern California (USC) over his alleged public intoxication.

The coach – Steve Sarkisian – has now filed a $30 million lawsuit charging USC for contract breach saying USC discriminated against him based on his disability (alcoholism).

This ESPN story “Steve Sarkisian fired by USC” provides a bit more background on the firing. A key question is whether USC knew of the alcohol disability. Sarkisian reportedly did not disclose it.

When I owned an association management company, I faced a similar situation of undesireable performance as a result of what I learned was a disability.

A former staffer went off his “bipolar meds” while at a client board meeting. He didn’t “go ballistic” or have an inappropriate behavior. Rather, he just disappeared. Board members called back to our AMC asking where he was. We didn’t know where he was. Later, we discovered he had used our company credit card to check in to a hotel in a different city. Now, we were faced with charges for two hotels during the same board meeting.

He did not disclose his bipolar condition during the hiring process. We only discovered it because of this incident. The client was upset and demanded action. Now aware of his disability, I recognized I could not fire him for his actions. Fortunately for me, he decided to resign.

So, back to my original question for association professionals:
  • Would your association board fire a CEO for being drunk (or high) during a membership meeting or board meeting?
If so, what are the potential legal ramifications for such actions? The USC-Sarkisian case may give us guidance.

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