SALT LAKE CITY — Former Real Salt Lake head coach Mike Petke says his lawsuit against his former club isn’t just for show.
“Make no mistake, Mr. Petke’s lawsuit is no publicity stunt as RSL alleges in its opening brief,” Petke and his attorneys state in new court documents.
On Tuesday, RSL’s former coach responded to the club’s motion to have his lawsuit dismissed.
Petke was suspended by both Major League Soccer and RSL following a July 24 match at Rio Tinto Stadium in which he said a Spanish word to the head referee that some interpreted as a homophobic slur.
In court documents, Petke contends an agreement was reached with RSL ownership in which he would return as head coach after a two-week suspension. But when club owner Dell Loy Hansen was caught on videotape discussing with fans Petke’s status with the team — despite both sides agreeing not to discuss the suspension publicly — Hansen tried to force Petke to resign, according to the lawsuit. When Petke refused, he was fired.
On Sept. 17, Petke filed a lawsuit against his former club and Utah Soccer LLC, claiming he is still owed $687,500 in salary.
On Oct. 10, RSL filed a motion in 3rd District Court asking a judge to either dismiss the lawsuit or make Petke settle it in arbitration with the league, something RSL claims was part of its agreement with the coach.
“The MLS commissioner is aware of this lawsuit, has asked Petke to withdraw his complaint, and is prepared to arbitrate Petke’s claims,” according to the motion.
RSL further contends that Petke’s lawsuit is part of a “media campaign to attack RSL, thus impacting MLS publicly, in an apparent attempt to bully RSL into accepting Petke’s demand to continue paying his salary in full notwithstanding the termination,” the motion states.
But in his response filed Tuesday, Petke claimed an arbitration clause never existed.
“Instead, RSL filed an 18-page motion spinning convoluted factual and legal arguments that are ultimately untenable because RSL wants to hide its egregious misconduct from the public and a jury by sweeping Mr. Petke’s lawsuit under a rug of arbitration,” according to the response.
Petke further states that if his lawsuit was a ruse, former RSL General Manager Craig Waibel — a material witness in Petke’s case — would not have been fired one week after the suit was filed. RSL and Waibel announced on Sept. 27 that the two had mutually agreed to part ways.
“Furthermore, if Mr. Petke’s lawsuit was merely a sham, RSL would be filing pleadings addressing the merits of Mr. Petke’s lawsuit rather than dodging them with a motion to compel arbitration despite being unable to identify any arbitration clause in the contracts between these parties,” the response states.
Freddy Juarez was named interim head coach after Petke’s dismissal, and helped the team qualify for the playoffs. Real Salt Lake will play its first round playoff match at Rio Tinto Stadium on Saturday.