Chivas USA finds itself under the media microscope for the second time in a month with the announcement of a wrongful termination and racial discrimination lawsuit filed against the club by two former youth coaches. This comes on the back of heavy rumors that the club and its parent Guadalajara outfit would be sold to billionaire Carlos Slim who it is believed would have no interest in continuing the USA extension of Mexico’s most successful club. The ownership rumor has only recently been dispelled due to the decision to ban multiple club ownership in Mexico. This effectively eliminates Slim’s interest since he already owns Pachuca and Club Leon (Previously discussed by Business of Soccer) in LigaMX.
This lawsuit assures that Chivas USA will remain in public discourse beyond the talk surrounding their lack of quality performance on the field as they now sit bottom of the division. The discrimination lawsuit is a big deal for the MLS and Chivas USA and given reports and club activity over the course of the season, the lawsuit appears like it could have some traction. Daniel Calichman and Theothoros (Teddy) Chronopoulos filed a discrimination lawsuit yesterday in Los Angeles County Superior Court claiming that they were fired based on the fact that they were not Mexican or Latino.
The original filing dated on May 28th presents multiple pieces of evidence toward a pattern of discriminatory behavior that began with an overall meeting of Chivas USA employees called by new owner Jorge Vergara in mid-November where it was first intimated that non-Mexican employees were not exactly welcome.
He asked, publicly, for those employees who were able to speak Spanish to raise their hands (he initially asked the question in Spanish and then repeated it in English). He then asked employees who spoke English to raise their hands. After publicly identifying those employees who did not speak Spanish, he 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.”
Later that month Chronopoulos met with newly appointed President and Chief Business officer Jose David who asked Chronopolous to, over the winter break, conduct research into the current youth academy players and coaches as well as players’ parents about their ethnicity and national origin. This resulted in a number of insulted families including one complaint by a parent who felt discriminated against.
Chronopoulos wasn’t happy about having to conduct the research and furthermore approached the club in January along with Daniel Calichman, out of fear for their jobs and made a harassment and discrimination complaint to the Chivas USA HR department. Three days later they were called into a meeting with David and HR manager Cynthia Craig where they were told about the club seeking to go back to its Mexican and roots. By the end of the meeting, they were told that they were no longer necessary to the club and told not to return to their coaching duties. It wasn’t until March 7th that Chronopoulos and Calichman were given notices of their employment being terminated.
The “Mexican roots” being referred to are about the Guadalajara Organization’s commitment to only signing Mexican nationals to their club. According to Goal.com in November the club actually released a statement on their website that read:
In Guadalajara, Mexican players that choose to play with the Mexican national team are the only ones that will be admitted
The application of this process on the USA outfit appears to be supported by a January interview of Jose Luis “Chelis” Sanchez Sola, the Head Coach of Chivas USA who was also released by the club yesterday. In the interview with Zac Lee Rigg Chelis describes the three goals that Vergara put before him. The first was to win games and the second was to scout latin-american talent. The third, following the trend set in the second goal, was to develop players who could move on to play for the Guadalajara Chivas team. As established in the club statement from November, this would require any player to make the switch to already maintain Mexican citizenship.
In the same interview Chelis told Rigg that there was one player on the roster who had the potential in the next couple years to make the jump to the Mexican parent club, Carlos Alvarez. Alvarez is a superdraft pick who played for the University of Connecticut and when asked how much the transfer would cost to move from Chivas USA to Chivas Guadalajara, Chelis responded by holding up “his fingers in the shape of an O”. This is an interesting relationship since previous external league transfers from MLS have garnered transfer fees.
Vergara’s activity in player movement appears to confirm the trend more in that 12 non-Mexican players were transferred out of Chivas USA over a 3-month period and have replaced them with players who all would qualify to play for Guadalajara. The fact that the club hasn’t agreed a local TV deal for this season doesn’t help at all, especially with their previous TV deal giving an unprecedented 100% TV and Radio coverage in Mexico. The focus for Vergara is clearly on the Guadalajara end and seems to be establishing the USA club as simply a direct feeder team. Maybe this is what Vergara meant when he told Don Garber that that he needed a little more time to set things up.
With all of these elements of the organization being taken into account, it does seem a little contrived that the reasoning behind the firing of their Academy Director and one of their top coaches was that they were “demonstrating unprofessional conduct and creating a hostile work environment.” Jose David doesn’t even provide examples as to how the unprofessional conduct was demonstrated or how they created a hostile work environment.
The early player transfers could be argued that the club has the right to recruit whoever they wanted and there was some reasonable doubt regarding discrimination. After reading the details of the suit, it is very difficult not to connect some very public dots here. It will be interesting to see if this forces further discussion of an MLS takeover or further action taken against the club legally. Regardless of what happens to the club, the issue of racial discrimination at the very highest levels of an MLS club’s management structure is simply never good to hear about.