Former Real Salt Lake coach Mike Petke’s lawsuit against his former team will go to arbitration, 3rd District Court Judge Patrick Corum ruled Thursday.
The decision potentially brings the dispute between Petke and RSL in front of Major League Soccer commissioner Don Garber, who, per the league’s constitution, has the power to arbitrate disputes between league employees.
Corum took some issue with the commissioner’s role during oral arguments last week, calling into question just how an organizational figure had such broad authority to not only adjudicate disputes, but decide whether or not he would even hear them.
Corum said Wednesday that he has “massive concerns” about the arbitration provision in the MLS constitution, and acknowledged that when he first reviewed the case, he did not feel that it was enforceable. One of the reasons he thought that is because it was initially unclear whether Petke’s contract bound him to the constitution and its rules.
But Corum said the constitution is referenced clearly enough and that he was not convinced by Petke’s lawyers’ argument that he did not have proper access to it should he have ever wanted to review it.
“The constitution was clearly referenced,” even though it may not have been attached to Petke’s contract, Corum said.
The judge also said state law heavily favors arbitration. And while he was surprised that someone could give away their right to a trial by signing an agreement that favors arbitration — and arbitration by someone who potentially isn’t neutral — in the end, he had to go with what the law says.
“I don’t know that this is a just result,” Corum added. “But it is the law, and we have to follow it.”
The dispute started soon after RSL fired Petke for an incident involving his behavior toward referees after a Leagues Cup match in July in which he repeatedly used a Spanish-language homophobic slur. Petke contends his firing was unwarranted due to an agreement he signed during his suspension, and sued the club for the money remaining on his contract, a sum nearing $700,000.
RSL’s response was to point to MLS rules, mandating an arbitration process to settle disputes.
Legal experts have since said the dispute is likely to end in a settlement.
The proceedings have caused some collateral damage within the RSL organization.
In Petke’s original filing, he detailed a conversation in which former general manager Craig Waibel criticized owner Dell Loy Hansen for how he handled Petke’s suspension and subsequent firing, and said that he planned to leave the organization after the season.
Waibel and RSL parted ways in late September, before the end of the regular season.
RSL PICKS UP, DECLINES OPTIONS ON MULTIPLE PLAYERS
Real Salt Lake picked up contract options for 11 players and declined four, the club announced Thursday.
RSL is letting go — at least contractually — forward Joao Plata, midfielder Luke Mulholland and defenders Marcelo Silva and Danilo Acosta. Mulholland played for the Real Monarchs team that won the 2019 USL Championship trophy.
It is possible some of those players could be back under new deals.
Four other players are out of contact, including captain Kyle Beckerman. RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen said in a recent radio interview that “conversations” are happening between the club and Beckerman.
Defender Donny Toia, midfielder Kelyn Rowe and forward Sebastian Saucedo are also out of contract.
Goalkeeper Andrew Putna; defenders Justen Glad and Erik Holt; midfielders Everton Luiz, Nick Besler and Justin Portillo; and forwards Corey Baird, Jefferson Savarino, Brooks Lennon, Douglas Martinez and Tate Schmitt were all retained.
RSL’s roster stands at 20.
— Alex Vejar