Two former coaches with Chivas USA filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Tuesday charging the team with discrimination, claiming they were fired earlier this year "because they were neither Mexican nor Latino."
Daniel Calichman and Theothoros Chronopoulos, both former members of the U.S. national soccer team, worked with Chivas USA's youth academy, where they coached players between the ages of 7 and 18.
According to the complaint, shortly after Mexican businessman Jorge Vergara and wife, Angelica Fuentes, assumed sole ownership of the Major League Soccer team last fall, Vergara told his staff that employees who did not speak Spanish would be fired. Shortly after that Jose David, the team's new president and chief business officer, asked Chronopoulos to compile lists of Academy players and coaches who were Mexican or Mexican American and those that weren't. Weeks later, the lawsuit claims, David asked them to collect more detailed ethnic and national origin data on Academy players and their parents.
Both coaches subsequently filed written complaints of discrimination and harassment to Cynthia Craig, the team's human resources manager who, the coaches say, did not follow through on a promise to investigate. Instead, David met with the coaches and, the lawsuit alleges, told them ownership was taking the team back to "its Mexican roots" and that neither coach would be part of that effort.
Vergara also owns the Mexican league club Chivas de Guadalajara, which served as the inspiration for Chivas USA. Chivas de Guadalajara is the only club in the Mexican league that has never fielded a non-Mexican player and Vergara has long sought a way to recruit and develop Mexican American players from Southern California for that team.
That has led to several changes with his MLS club in the past seven months, including the hiring of former Mexican league manager Jose Luis Sanchez Sola and a complete overhaul of the team's roster. In 2012, just one Chivas USA player had Mexican roots. This year no fewer than 14 were either born in Mexico or have Mexican-born parents, making them eligible to player for Chivas de Guadalajara as well as Chivas USA.
Four months ago, the coaches say, Craig asked both men to resign in exchange for two weeks of severance pay -- a request both men refused. So on March 7, according to the lawsuit, David sent identical letters to the coaches informing them that they were being dismissed.
In the lawsuit, the coaches are seeking punitive damages.
A spokeswoman for Chivas USA said the team would not comment about the suit. An MLS spokesman said the league was looking into the charges but would have no immediate comment.