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Mike Petke’s lawsuit against Real Salt Lake, explained

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Here’s what we learned from the complaint.

Lucas Muller | RSL Soapbox

In taking a look at the complaint filed by former RSL coach Mike Petke in regard to his firing, we’ve learned quite a few things about the sequence of events that led to his being fired from the club.

Here’s all that, with liberal quotes to attempt to not inject too much of our own interpretation. Do keep in mind that this is just one side of the suit, and it’s going to make claims about the proper legal course of action in the case. I have tried to extricate those, as they aren’t strictly relevant for us.

What happened, confirmed by the complaint

For the first time, we have confirmation from Petke’s camp about his actions following the Tigres UANL match on July 24.

The complaint makes claims about the word in question, the nature of which is certainly up for debate and has been the subject of national discussion and controversy.

I have emphasized in bold the fact-focused portions. The interpretation portions remain in natural text.

Given the grating frustration arising from RSL’s untimely receipt of the rules the night before and Pitti’s missed calls, Petke responded by using a Spanish word beginning with a “P,” which is commonly used by soccer players and soccer fans alike to mean “coward” or “jerk.” In fact, the “P” word had been used by fans and players on the field alike throughout the match. Petke also used the Spanish word because Pitti is Panamanian and speaks Spanish, and Petke wanted the referee to understand he was being called a coward for his actions, which made Petke feel as if RSL had been cheated.

Afterward, Petke left the field and entered the only tunnel leading from the pitch to the players’ dressing room, coaches’ room, and the referees’ office. Upon entering his office, Petke saw a piece of paper and a pen on his desk. He wrote the “P” word on the paper and then walked out of his office toward the players’ dressing room. As he walked down the corridor, Petke saw Pitti walking toward the referees’ office using the tunnel shared by the players, coaches, and referees. Petke held-up the handwritten note so Pitti could read it.

The second paragraph is particularly interesting, and it confirms what had been alleged shortly after the match.

What happened next: Petke’s suspension

The complaint makes the claim that Petke and Real Salt Lake agreed upon an amendment to his 2017 contract; the complaint refers to this amendment as the July 2019 Contract. That amendment, included in the complaint, specifies the following:

Any further violations of these policies will result in immediate termination for cause under your employment contract.

It is not immediately clear what “these policies” refers to, but this alleged amendment to the contract, titled “Violation of Club Policy” becomes a keystone in the arguments from Petke’s lawyers.

Petke’s wife and Dell Loy Hansen meet by chance at a Target

The complaint makes the claim that Kim Petke, Mike Petke’s wife, met by chance with Dell Loy Hansen at a Target while shopping for a “trip to Moab,” which was referred to prior to this by RSL general manager Craig Waibel in a text message conversation with Kim.

While visiting, Hansen told Kim he had spoken with RSL’s sponsors and that it had been “close with the sponsors, but everything was okay.” Hansen acted jubilant and said Petke should “go have fun with the family.” In fact, Hansen offered the Petkes the use of his vacation home located in Bear Lake, Utah during Petke’s suspension.

Tuesday, Aug. 6: Petke is still slated to return

The complaint states that Waibel and Kim Petke discussed via text message a meeting with Mike Petke on Wed, Aug. 7, to plan for Mike Petke’s return to Real Salt Lake on Monday, Aug. 11.

Wednesday, Aug. 7: Hansen speaks candidly about considering firing Petke

As we reported last month, RSL owner Dell Loy Hansen spoke openly and candidly with a group of fans in Rio Tinto Stadium. This occurred while the assumption was that Petke was still set to return, according to the complaint.

The complaint makes the following claims:

Realizing his inappropriate conversation about Petke had been caught on tape, Hansen began to scramble for cover. He called Petke’s cellphone and left a voice message. Petke, under orders not to speak with RSL during his suspension, did not answer. Instead, Kim texted RSL’s Waibel to notify him that Hansen called Petke. Kim also requested approval for Petke to return Hansen’s call. Waibel responded with surprise and said he would ask why Hansen was calling Petke.

Thursday, Aug. 8: Waibel and Zarkos meet with Petke

The following statements come from the complaint and are claimed to be from Craig Waibel, general manager, and Rob Zarkos, executive vice president of soccer operations:

- Waibel and Zarkos woke up that morning and read Real Soapbox, a fan site, and read an article about a videotape showing Hansen “talking to fans about your [Petke] situation, potentially firing you after the game.”

“When I woke up, and read it, he’s talking to fans like it’s almost a casual conversation, like, ‘Oh, look at me! I’m the owner and I want to talk.’”

Given Hansen’s statements, “I don’t know how he can go back. He’s on video. He’s on video!”

“He [Hansen] really put himself in a corner. I mean, I don’t know some bullsh#t, I’m just preparing for the worst.”

“I know, but once it’s public there’s no going back.”

“He [Hansen] doesn’t give a f*ck about anything but himself. He’s spazing.”

“He [Hansen] cares about him. He f*cked up because he ran his mouth to Don [Garber] and you know, it’s all about him. It’s always about him.”

“It was gross how quickly [Hansen] changed his tune. This is 100% about him.”

Notably, the complaint states that both Waibel and Zarkos “(have) a plan to exit RSL after the season.”

Both Waibel and Zarkos also told Petke that they were no longer going to put up with Hansen’s conduct and that they had a plan to exit RSL after the season. Waibel then said, “It’ll be at the end of the year, because I also don’t think Dell Loy [Hansen] should ever be rewarded for who he is.”

Waibel also is alleged to have sent the following text message to Petke during a conversation:

Thank you, I am exhausted, confused, emotionally spent, and disappointed that this is the only thing that makes sense. I have always known where the issues in this organization are born . . . and I have never once believe[d] that anything last year was created by you or I as individuals. This is [the toughest] work environment in major league soccer without a doubt.

Petke is offered $75,000 to resign

RSL owner Hansen sent Petke the following text message on Sunday, Aug. 11, telling him that he was trying to give Petke “the best outcome under very tough circumstances”:

Mike I just spoke with Rob and we should talk [sic] Everything we are doing is to give you the best outcome under very tough circumstances [sic] I want to avoid having to terminate for cause which would damage your future possibilities [sic] Call me as a true friend [sic] DellLoy [sic].

I think you should have legal counsel but we are going to have to act by 6:00 p.m. Don’t miss the chance to allow a better outcome. DellLoy

Petke responded with the following:

“if you are interested in arriving at a better solution then [sic] is currently presented Lets [sic] have a conversation.”

The conversation took place in a conference call with RSL’s legal counsel. The complaint states that an agreement wasn’t reached, and that the conversation was a short one. The complaint states the following:

Despite RSL’s knowledge that Petke had retained legal counsel, Hansen called Petke twice, left a voicemail, and texted Petke after the conference call concluded. In his text, Hansen wrote: “Call I am sending the press releases assuming we [sic] are not accepting the offer to resign with cash offered[.] The termination option leaves no compensation[.]”

What major questions remain?

  • The Petke suit alleges that the “Violation of Club Policy” document constitutes an amendment to his contract with the club. Is it? What is Real Salt Lake’s position on the document?
  • Will Rob Zarkos and Craig Waibel leave Real Salt Lake at the end of the year, as was allegedly stated in a conversation between the two and Petke?
  • The complaint alleges that Petke’s behavior did not violate his “2017 Contract,” specifically Section 3.01F, which states as follows: “commission of any action or involvement in any occurrence that brings Club or Employee into public disrepute, scandal or ridicule, or reflects in a materially adverse manner on the integrity or reputation of the Club or the Owner, including, without limitation, dishonest, fraudulent, unethical or inappropriate conduct.”

What else did we learn?

Mike Petke’s salary during his 2017 contract was as such: $400k for 2018, $450k for 2019, and $500k for 2020.

When will we know more?

As far as I’ve gathered, Real Salt Lake has 21 calendar days to respond to the complaint. At latest, presuming there is no settlement in the interim.