The already-nasty lawsuit involving Real Salt Lake and their former coach Mike Petke–fired in a controversial manner after a two week suspension, has taken yet another turn, with Petke turning fire at Major League Soccer, and Don Garber directly.
In a pleading filed last week, Petke has added both the league and Garber to the list of defendants, suing both for tortious interference with contract, and a civil conspiracy to deprive Petke of his right to a jury trial by trying to force him into arbitration. Petke’s attorneys have also requested a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order, to stop MLS from commencing an arbitration proceeding.
Petke has determined it necessary to seek a restraining order and preliminary injunction, because according to filings obtained by Socceresq, RSL and MLS have commenced the arbitration process, even though the court has not ruled on RSL’s motion to dismiss the case and send it to arbitration.
To catch you up to speed: After Mike Petke was suspended for using what MLS deemed to be offensive and abusive language towards referees after a Leagues Cup game versus Tigres, the coach filed suit alleging breach of contract when the team decided to fire him just as he was to return to the team. Real Salt Lake then filed a motion to dismiss the case and move it to arbitration, where MLS Commissioner Don Garber would preside over the case.
According to the filings, RSL sent a letter to MLS on October 14, requesting that Garber exercise his authority per a document called the “MLS Constitution” to order Petke into arbitration. Per Petke’s attorneys, he never saw the Constitution when he signed his employment agreement.
After RSL filed the motion to dismiss Petke’s lawsuit and move the case to arbitration, Petke opposed the motion, arguing that nowhere in his employment agreement is there a requirement for arbitration. While the motion to dismiss is still pending before the Utah court (I’ve since learned that the matter is scheduled to be heard on November 15), MLS and RSL have apparently set to work to force Petke to comply with MLS’s arbitration procedure, even though the Court has not ruled on RSL’s motion.
On October 17, MLS sent a letter approving RSL’s request to have Garber use his powers to commence an arbitration proceeding. “In accordance with Section 2.D of the MLS Constitution, MLS will now proceed to administer and conduct the requested arbitration,” the letter reads. MLS goes on to demand that Petke’s attorneys submit a response to the arbitration demand by October 31, 2019, and submit a response to include “any answer, counterclaim and/or objections to the arbitration.” The letter also warns Petke’s attorneys that failure to comply would have adverse consequences on their case.
The letter then sets a tentative date for a “case management conference” on October 24, and requests the parties be prepared to address the “scope and schedule for all pre-hearing procedures.”
In a followup email on October 21, an attorney on behalf of Real Salt Lake requested that Petke’s attorneys make themselves to discuss the October 24 scheduling conference. “Are you available today [October 21] to discuss a schedule for the arbitration in advance of the October 24, 2019 scheduling conference,” reads an email from an attorney from Real Salt Lake.
That request was not met with a favorable response, as Petke’s attorneys immediately threatened to add MLS and Don Garber to the lawsuit unless MLS canceled the arbitration proceeding. “Unless RSL’s MLS’s, and Commissioner Garber’s respective answers to the foregoing [demand to dismiss the arbitration] are an unqualified ‘Yes,” Mr. Petke will file an amended complaint adding MLS and Commissioner Garber as defendants in the Utah state court action and file a motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction,” the emailed response from Petke’s attorney reads.
That threat was ignored by RSL and MLS. “I am available Thursday, October 24, 2019 at 3:00 EST for the case management call,” was the only response from Real Salt Lake’s attorney in an email to the parties.
Tortious interference and Conspiracy:
In adding MLS and Don Garber to the lawsuit, Petke has dramatically escalated the conflict…and stakes in his case. Petke is now alleging an all encompassing conspiracy involving the league, Real Salt Lake with commissioner Garber as the man pulling the strings. Essentially, Petke argues that MLS and Garber are illegally interfering with Petke’s right to pursue his claims through Utah court as outlined in his contract, by in his words “fabricating” a reason to force him into arbitration.
“MLS and Commissioner Garber knew of Petke’s contractual relationship with RSL, but intentionally interfered with the relationship by (1) demanding Petke immediately withdraw his lawsuit in this Court and submit his claims against RSL to arbitration before MLS with Commissioner Garber (or his designee) serving as arbiter and (2) causing RSL to submit the “Demand for Arbitration,” which has resulted in the initiation of the MLS Arbitration,” the amended complaint reads.
As to the Conspiracy claim, Petke alleges that the Garber, MLS and RSL are working in concert to move Petke’s claim to arbitration, in violation of the terms of his contract. “Prior to the commencement of the MLS Arbitration, Defendants acted in concert to fabricate a specious basis for alleging that Petke’s claims against RSL in this case were subject to arbitration before MLS with Commissioner Garber (or his designee) serving as arbiter and then inducing RSL to breach the terms of the Employment Agreement and July 2019 Contract with Petke by filing a Motion to Compel Arbitration and “Demand for Arbitration,” which has resulted in the commencement of the MLS Arbitration,” according to the complaint.