FrontRow Legal recently successfully represented rugby league player Keith Mason ‘’the Player’’ in a claim heard in the Leeds District Registry High Court worth £167,000 against his former club Huddersfield Giants ‘’the Club’’, following his sacking in October 2012. A summary of this case can be found below:
Mason was dismissed by the Super League club following an offensive picture which appeared on his twitter account. Despite stating that it was his girlfriend who was responsible for the tweet and that he had removed the image at the earliest opportunity, the Club summarily terminated his contract for gross misconduct.
Although they accepted during their internal investigation that Mason did not take the photo, nor did he post it on twitter, the Club claimed that the Player was aware that the image was likely to be seen by his 4000 followers. They stated that, on its own, the fact that the image was left on his account for 2 days before it was deleted was a serious enough offence to warrant his dismissal.
The Player however felt that the Club wanted him out. It was felt that they had unlawfully used a relatively minor incident to do so. He pointed to the fact that they had previously tried to offload him to Wakefield and that they had a new coach in Paul Anderson, who he felt did not consider him a part of Huddersfield’s plans going forward. More damning however was evidence that Huddersfield had gone as far as replacing him even before the tweet had been made with their signings of Anthony Mullally, Ukuma Ta’ai and Craig Kopczak. Detailed evidence was heard in court surrounding the signing of Kopczak, which existed due to an RFL tapping up investigation which had previously been undertaken.
The outcome of the case rested on whether, in allowing the offensive picture to remain on his twitter account for 2 days, Mason had committed a breach of contract which was repudiatory in the sense of being sufficiently serious to justify dismissal. In their defence, Huddersfield pointed to the reputation of the club and position of Mason as a role model. Additionally, they made reference to his number of twitter followers and that a lot of these were children. Mason argued that the only thing he was guilty of was allowing the picture to remain on his twitter account for a short period of time, this on its own not being enough to justify the termination of his contract.
After considering all the arguments presented during the 3 1/2 days trial, HHJ Saffman stated that he had no difficulty in finding that the Player had established that his dismissal was wrongful. In making his decision, HHJ Saffman stated that the issue was a fundamental breach of contract, pure and simple. HHJ Saffman possessed the strong view that one incident was not repudiating breach and should not therefore have led to the employer being able to lawfully dismiss the employee.
Judge Saffman therefore ordered that Huddersfield pay Mason a sum totalling £167,000. This amount included the total remaining sums which would have been owed under his contract, which was until the end of the 2015 season, in addition to amounts that he would have been owed in relation to a testimonial fixture, to which he would have been entitled.