soccer

Chivas USA vs. Employment Law USA

chivas-fadeDan Calichman and Ted Chronopoulos, whom many of us remember from 1990s MLS, are in the news as the plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Chivas USA. C&C Coaching Factory had done pretty well with the club’s academy program, only to be dismissed midseason.

At the time, Top Drawer Soccer’s J.R. Eskilson and The Goat Parade’s Alicia Ratterree were concerned:

We may look back at this story and see that it is just a blip and won’t impact the long term development of the Academy and Chivas USA’s first team. But there is going to be turmoil in the short term, whether that means scaring potential recruits away, or actually sending current talented Academy players to other destinations.

In the medium term, as it turns out, it’s a bit more than a blip. It’s a case of employment law. Calichman and Chronopoulos say they were fired because they’re “non-Latino Americans.”

Chivas USA isn’t the first soccer team in the USA or Canada to bill itself with a specific ethnic identity. The U.S. Open Cup is full of names like Maccabi Los Angeles, Philadelphia Ukrainians, Brooklyn Italians, etc. The NASL of the 1970s tried to keep ethnic marketing to a minimum but nevertheless tolerated “Toronto Metros-Croatia” for a while. Some teams such as the St. Louis Stars and Philadelphia Atoms boasted of their Americanization, and U.S. players gathered as “Team America” near the end of the league’s lifespan.

Such historical idiosyncrasies surely won’t help Chivas USA and owner Jorge Vergara, who bought out his former partners last year, in this case. They could, perhaps, argue that they’re simply instilling a new style of play, and that Calichman and Chronopoulos didn’t fit in. That’s not unusual. Players and coaches alike can be sent packing when a team tries to play a different way.

That argument would be interesting if it went to court. But that’s probably not how it’ll play out. Not given some of the more incendiary parts of the complaint:

After publicly identifying those employees who did not speak Spanish, (Vergara) announced that those employees who did not speak Spanish would no longer be able to work at CHIVAS USA. As he further stated, “If you don’t speak Spanish, you can go work for the Galaxy, unless you speak Chinese, which is not even a language.”

The next quote in the complaint is from Chivas USA HR director Cynthia Craig: “Oh boy. I can’t believe he just said that.”

Chronopoulos was then asked to survey everyone in the Academy, players and parents, to get their ethnic and national backgrounds. Shortly thereafter, Chronopoulos and Calichman filed complaints with Craig. They met not just with Craig, but with team president Jose David, who presided over one of the most awkward non-firings this side of The Office.

MR. CHRONOPOULOS asked if he was being fired. Ms. Craig responded, “No; you are not being fired,” but cryptically added, “We will be sending you some options in a few days.” Mr. David, however, interrupted and announced that they would send him some options by the very next day. Despite being told he was not being fired, he was also told not to return to his coaching duties.

A standoff continued for nearly two months.

Not mentioned in that complaint: Chivas USA hired a new U18 Academy coach to replace Calichman. A man of notable Mexican heritage? Well, not exactly.

They hired Keith Costigan, the Irishman turned Fox Soccer commentator.

Will that hiring help Chivas USA stave off discrimination accusations? Or will Chivas USA try to settle this quickly and quietly?

And once the case is resolved, what’s the future of Chivas USA? If you’re in the MLS front office or another MLS owner’s office, are you pushing for the team to be sold as quickly as possible?

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2 replies »

  1. As I understand employment law, the Costigan hire will indeed help Chivas USA fend off C&C’s allegations.

    IF, that is, Costigan speaks Spanish.

    If that’s the case, Chivas can plausibly claim that they fired Chronopoulous because he lacked a certain skill (speaking Spanish) and not because of his race.

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