PHILADELPHIA (CN) - An arbitration ruling upholding the firing of Major League Soccer coach Piotr Nowak will stand, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.
The decision by U.S. District Judge Mark Kearney affirming the removal of Nowak, former coach of the league's Philadelphia Union, comes a week after he unsealed hundreds of pages documenting the coach's abusive training regimen.
The team fired Nowak in 2012, three years into a six-year contract, citing a broad but vague litany of reasons for his termination, including "physically intimidating fellow employees."
Kearney's ruling cites documents unsealed on January 5, including testimony that Nowak, who led the U.S. Olympic men's soccer team, had spanked players in hazing rituals, forced them to run 10 miles without water, and called them "pussies" and "weak" for complaining about concussions.
Nowak sued the Philadelphia Union last year after arbitrator Margaret Brogan upheld the team's decision to fire him. In a complaint filed in Philadelphia Federal Court, the former coach argued Brogan was partial to the team and allowed for insufficient cross-examination and other processes that would have enabled him to successfully contest his removal, which he said was carried out without cause.
"Arbitrator Brogan's conclusion Nowak [sic] threatened Philadelphia Union players' health and safety by these acts is adequately supported by ample record evidence," Kearney wrote in an 11-page opinion that emphasized the court's "extreme deference" to arbitration decisions.
In her decision, Brogan wrote that "the hazing of rookies, by spanking them, sometimes with a sandal, was completely unacceptable. Mr. Nowak brought this practice to the Philadelphia Union. His description of what he did was quite unnerving, especially when he described how he put his hand In a bucket of ice water to ease his pain, obviously because he was hitting the young people so hard."
The documents provided to Brogan by the team included a statement from Bob Foose, head of the MLS players' union, who recalled a conversation with Nowak in which the coach maintained that concussions "don't exist."
"They're not real," Foose recalled Nowak saying, as he repeated the assertion that players don't experience them in Germany, "that players just take a pill and go on, the implication being that it's a toughness question; the denigration of players who had suffered them for not being able to get immediately back out on the field."
In firing Nowak, the team also cited his attempts to find different employment, including his attempt to return to his old position to head the international U.S. men's soccer team.
Nowak claimed his firing urged by the players' union.
Brogan ordered Nowak to pay about $452,000 in attorneys' fees and costs to the team's firms, Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney, and Duane Morris. She also ordered Nowak to pay about $28,000 in fees to the American Arbitration Association.
"To our continuing surprise, intelligent and worldly parties often sign agreements to arbitrate future disputes and limit their fulsome due process citizen rights to a federal court and jury believing they will obtain a quicker answer with less costs," Kearney wrote.
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