San Diego Wave denounce 'defamatory' statements from ex-employee alleging toxic workplace, former players speak up

In a viral social media post, the employee claimed that club president Jill Ellis perpetuated an abusive environment

In a viral social media post, the employee claimed that club president Jill Ellis perpetuated an abusive environment, which San Diego said was
In a viral social media post, the employee claimed that club president Jill Ellis perpetuated an abusive environment, which San Diego said was "categorically false." (Howard Smith/ISI Photos/Getty Images)

Hours after a post from a former employee went viral, the San Diego Wave have denounced the employee's claims of a toxic workplace.

In a statement released on social media Wednesday afternoon, the Wave called the allegations "inaccurate and defamatory." San Diego also said that it plans to "pursue all legal avenues available to appropriately address this matter."

The statement was in response to a social media post from Brittany Alvarado, a former video and creative manager with the team. In the post, which had nearly 500,000 views on social media at the time the Wave posted its response, Alvarado put forth allegations of the Wave having a toxic workplace environment where female employees were discriminated against. Alvarado also claims that the environment was fostered by Wave president Jill Ellis. (Alvarado also posted the allegations to Instagram, where it has more than 1,600 likes.)

Ellis served as the U.S. women's national team head coach from 2014-19, and led the team to Women's World Cup championships in 2015 and 2019. In 2021, Ellis was announced as the Wave's inaugural club president, a year before the expansion team's inaugural season.

Alvarado, who joined the club last August, resigned in early June after what she called "an environment where abusive behaviors among her [Ellis'] subordinates were allowed to flourish" due to Ellis' "narcissistic personal agenda."

"The treatment we endured under club President Jill Ellis has been nothing short of life-altering and devastating to our mental health," Alvarado wrote, calling for Ellis to be removed.

In its statement, the Wave called the allegations, including those against Ellis, "categorically false."

Alvarado's post included a screenshot of an email she said she received after resigning. In the screenshot, a Wave employee (whose name Alvarado blacked out) called her "the most pathetic person I've ever met" and said that they were "estatic [sic] that you are no longer with the club." The San Diego Wave said in its statement that the email was "fabricated."

Another former employee, freelance photographer Jenny Chuang, supported Alvarado's statement, saying in a post on X that she was on suicide watch throughout her time with the Wave in 2022 due to a decline in mental health. According to social media, Chuang appears to still cover the Wave for the NWSL, but is no longer affiliated with the club directly.

"It breaks my heart that nothing has changed in the past 2 years," Chuang wrote.

This is not the first time Ellis has come under scrutiny. Former USWNT player Sydney Leroux called out Ellis' behavior in July 2020, soon after the coach had stepped down from the national team. In an interview with "The Crack Podcast," Leroux said the team won the 2015 World Cup, and potentially the 2019 one, "in spite of" Ellis' leadership.

"She’s not good for people’s mental health, that’s for sure. The best thing was for her to go," Leroux said.

Leroux stood by Alvarado on social media on Wednesday afternoon, too.

Leroux wasn't the only player to speak out on Wednesday, either. Stars like Carli Lloyd and Alex Morgan addressed the situation on social media, as did Bernadette O'Donnell, the team's former senior communications manager. O'Donnell said that, after moving across the country for her dream job and working for the Wave, she had "no hope for my life and didn't want to be alive anymore most of the time." She said she was terminated shortly after speaking to her boss about the situation.

The former USWNT coach was also mentioned several times in the Yates Report, an investigation released in October 2022 which unearthed significant abusive behavior and sexual misconduct within the NWSL and women's professional soccer. Per the report, several USWNT players reported persistent abusive behavior from coaches in the league to Ellis and then-president of U.S. Soccer, Sunil Gulati, but nothing came from the allegations until the Yates Report's release in 2022.

Ellis also played a role in hiring Christy Holly, one of the coaches under the most scrutiny in the report, to a role on the USWNT staff after not running background checks or reference checks. Holly was accused of repeated sexual misconduct and verbal and emotional abuse throughout the report.

As a result of the report, four coaches (including Holly) were permanently banned from the league, with others receiving conditional suspensions, while several clubs were fined heavily for their role in the alleged systemic abuse. Ellis did not receive any punishment.

The news also comes a couple of weeks after Ellis unexpectedly fired Wave head coach Casey Stoney in June. Stoney, an outspoken coach who led the expansion team to the 2023 Supporters Shield in its second season, was fired after a seven-game winless streak. Despite the recent struggles, the move came as a great surprise to the NWSL community.