SALT LAKE CITY — Three weeks after former head coach Mike Petke filed a lawsuit in Utah state court against Real Salt Lake, owner Dell Loy Hansen and holding company Utah Soccer LLC, the club has filed a response to many of the allegations addressed in the complaint.
RSL, through its legal counsel Kirton McConkie in Salt Lake City, responded with a motion to dismiss or stay the lawsuit from its former coach against the club, according to an affidavit filed Monday in the 3rd District Court. The club also asked the court to allow arbitration between the two sides under the gaze of MLS commissioner Don Garber, as is provided by Major League Soccer bylaws.
At the heart of the dispute is Petke’s firing for reportedly unacceptable behavior following a Leagues Cup match with Mexican power Tigres UANL, when the ex-coach referred to the head official by a Spanish slur, both on the field and near the post-match locker room. Petke was fined for his actions at the time, suspended by the club, and later saw his contract terminated at the conclusion of the suspension.
According to the affidavit, RSL's employment agreement with Petke — which ran through the 2020 MLS season — could be terminated for a variety of reasons, but most specifically for "any act that brings (RSL) or (Petke) into public disrepute, scandal or ridicule, or reflects in a material adverse manner on the integrity or reputation of (RSL) or the owner, including limitation, dishonest, fraudulent, unethical or inappropriate conduct."
The club argues that Petke began a "media campaign to attack RSL" and that the former coach attempted to "bully" Real Salt Lake into paying his full salary beyond his termination, according to court documents.
"Petke and his counsel, apparently were desirous to try this matter in the press, immediately reported the filing of the complaint to pressure RSL to accede to Petke’s demands," the club wrote in its response.
RSL argues that the mere existence of the lawsuit by a former coach invites public and media scrutiny "that can harm the organization and league regardless of its merits."
"Petke’s bully tactics of demanding emergency meetings and immediate concession to his demands to avoid the filing of his Complaint further exemplify the impact of his claims on RSL’s MLS business and the reputation and public image of MLS and RLS," the affidavit states.
Petke has not publicly responded to his termination, except for several brief statements through social media and the earlier lawsuit, wherein he laid out his version of events surrounding his firing — including meetings he had with Hansen, former general manager Craig Waibel, and other officials with the club prior to litigation.
Waibel resigned as general manager of the club shortly after the lawsuit was filed.
Hansen conducted a lengthy one-on-one interview with club television partner KUTV almost immediately after the firing wherein he addressed Petke’s conduct and the reasoning for his decision.
As late as Sept. 24, the league reminded Petke that Garber “has full and exclusive jurisdiction and authority to arbitrate and resolve any disputes between MLS member and employees that relate to the member’s MLS-related business,” and asked the former coach to withdraw his complaint from the Utah state court. The club said that Petke has not done so.
Utah law also favors arbitration of claims similar to Petke's against Utah Soccer, LLC. The club argues that Petke’s failure to withdraw his lawsuit, stemming from a complaint filed Sept. 16 in court records, constitutes a refusal to arbitrate.