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Ex-Chivas USA employees file discrimination lawsuit

Photo: /AP

Jorge Vergara (right) owns both Chivas USA and Chivas de Guadalajara.

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Two former Chivas USA youth coaches have filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Major League Soccer team, claiming they were fired because they aren't Mexican or Latino.

The suit was filed Tuesday by Daniel Calichman and Theothoros Chronopoulos in Los Angeles County Superior Court. The suit also claims harassment and retaliation based on ethnicity and race and seeks unspecified damages.

The two men worked for more than a year for the team's academy, which provides soccer programs for youths.

Once the team was fully acquired by Jorge Vergara and Angelica Fuentes, who also control Chivas Guadalajara in Mexico, there was an effort to replace players and staff who had no Mexican or Latino heritage, according to the lawsuit.

Last November, Vergara allegedly said at a staff meeting that non-Spanish speaking employees would be fired. He asked those who spoke Spanish to raise their hands and then asked those who spoke English to also do the same, the suit said.

"'If you don't speak Spanish, you can go work for the Galaxy, unless you speak Chinese, which is not even a language,''' Vergara allegedly told employees, according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit claims Chivas USA is trying to mirror the "Mexican-only'' policy of its Guadalajara counterpart.

"While that may be acceptable in Mexico, in California and in our country you can't make decisions on employment based on ethnicity or race,'' said plaintiffs' attorney Greg Helmer.

Cristina Maillo Belda, a spokeswoman for Chivas USA, declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The team's roster was overhauled during the offseason, with players being traded or cut and replaced with those who are Latino. Coach Jose Luis Sanchez Sola gave a simple explanation during a Los Angeles Times interview in January: having more Mexican players on the MLS team makes them eligible to play for either Chivas team.

The policy, however, wasn't just limited to the pitch, according to the suit. Chronopoulos said Jose David, the team's president and chief business officer, directed him in December to gather ethnic and other data about the children enrolled in the academy and their parents.

Calichman said that during a meeting with David and a human resources manager, David said the team was going back to its Mexican roots and indicated neither youth coach would be part of that effort, the suit said.

Calichman and Chronopoulos, who both played in the MLS, complained about alleged discrimination and harassment earlier this year and were told there would be an internal investigation. Despite repeated requests, neither man has received the investigation's results, Helmer said.

Both men were suspended and fired in March for "unprofessional conduct that created an unsafe work environment,'' according to the lawsuit.

"I just think it's morally wrong,'' said Chronopoulos, 40. "Normally when you get hired, you get hired on your merit and skill level and not by the color of your skin or ethnicity.''

Chivas USA is currently last in the Western Conference.

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