No Red Card for Dismissal of Technical Director of Leeds United

This is an unusual case where Mr Williams, Technical Director of LUFC was summarily dismissed for sending an email containing obscene and pornographic images, nothing you say is unusual about that.  It is clearly an act which amounts to ‘gross misconduct’ under most employers’ disciplinary procedures.  Certainly it would, in most circumstances, allow the employer to claim that the employee has committed a ‘repudiatory breach of contract’ allowing the employer to immediately terminate the contract without notice.

What if the employer were specifically looking for evidence to justify a dismissal for gross misconduct because it did not want to pay Mr Williams approximately £250,000 by way of notice pay following a restructure?   

LUFC searched back five years worth of emails to find something on Mr Williams, and must have been delighted when they found this email which was sent from the Company’s account five years previously.  LUFC used this email to dismiss Mr Williams instantly on the grounds of gross misconduct.

Mr Williams considered that this amounted to wrongful dismissal, a dismissal in breach of contract.  The High Court disagreed and decided that LUFC were entitled to go down this route and dismiss Mr Williams without notice.

Further, it did not matter that the club had decided not to pay Mr Williams his notice pay before they discovered the email.  In defending a wrongful dismissal claim the employer is entitled to rely on information that it becomes aware of after the dismissal.

The case comes with a health warning: this was not a case for unfair dismissal.  Mr Williams claims were breach of contract and wrongful dismissal.  Mr Williams was entitled to 12 months notice and that is why LUFC were trying to find a reason to justify not paying him his notice.  The Court concluded that the sending of the email was a breach of the implied contractual term of trust and confidence and was sufficiently serious to amount to gross misconduct for which instant dismissal was justified.

Of course had Mr Williams case included a claim for unfair dismissal in the Tribunal a different test would be applied and it is unlikely that a Tribunal would find that in these circumstances the dismissal was fair.  So whilst Mr Williams may have a valid unfair dismissal claim, the financial cap of £74,200 is likely to apply to any compensation awarded to Mr Williams, and any claim for wrongful dismissal is capped at £25,000 in the Tribunal.

Whilst it is an interesting case, employers should generally seek advice when dealing with dismissals especially, as in the case, the financial exposure is significant.

If you would like to discuss any of the issues raised in this article in more detail, please do not hesitate to contact Gareth Roberts or any member of the Employoment team.