With the Euro 2012 football tournament kicking off, we round up some cases from the world of football that feature employment law.
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(1) Eastham v Newcastle United Football Club Ltd (High Court, 1963)
In 1956, George Eastham signed for Newcastle United on a rolling one-year contract. In 1959, he refused to resign and requested a transfer to Arsenal. The Football Association's draconian "retain and transfer" system allowed the club to prevent him from moving. The rules allowed clubs to retain players as long as they were offered terms that were "reasonable", effectively tying a player to one club until it agreed to release him. The High Court found that the rules were an unlawful restraint of trade. Eastham's battle and the abolition of the maximum wage around the same time changed the face of English football.
More on Eastham v Newcastle United Football Club Ltd (on the Wikipedia website)
(2) Union Royale Belge des Sociétés de Football Association ASBL v Bosman (European Court of Justice, 1995)
A case that is familiar to every football fan, often referred to simply as the "Bosman ruling". In 1995, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) gave this decision on the free movement of workers that changed European football forever and shifted the power to players. The little-known Belgian footballer Jean-Marc Bosman, who wanted to move clubs, challenged the rule that a footballer whose contract had run its course could not move to a new club unless his old club agreed to release him. The ECJ said that footballers in the European Union should be allowed to move freely to another club at the end of their contracts. The ECJ also ruled that clubs could not be restricted in the number of European Union players they could hire.
More on Union Royale Belge des Sociétés de Football Association ASBL v Bosman (on the ECJ website)
(3) White and others v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police and others (House of Lords, 1999)
Some of the most important principles on employer responsibility for employees' mental health problems were highlighted in post-traumatic stress disorder cases arising from the Hillsborough disaster. In this case, the House of Lords dismissed the claims of five police officers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder who were at Hillsborough, but who were not based in the pens in which the fatalities occurred. (In 1996, 14 officers who were in the pens and removed spectators were given a settlement.)
More on White and others v Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police and others
(4) Macari v Celtic Football and Athletic Co Ltd (Court of Session, 1999)
Lou Macari became the manager of Celtic in late 1993. His family home remained in Stoke, where he returned after the match on Saturdays, sometimes not going back to Celtic Park until the following Wednesday. During this time, the board of directors put no pressure on him to comply with a clause in his contract that required him to live within a 45-mile radius of Glasgow. A dispute arose after the manager was reminded of the residence clause in his contract and insisted on taking a holiday that had not been prearranged with the club. The manager was dismissed. In a subsequent breach of contract claim, the Court of Session held that Mr Macari, who failed to obey a residence clause in his contract of employment and comply with his employer's lawful and legitimate instructions, was in material breach of his contract. Any breach of the implied term of trust and confidence by his employer did not entitle the employee to withhold performance of his contractual obligations.
More on Macari v Celtic Football and Athletic Co Ltd
(5) Post Office v Liddiard (Court of Appeal, 2001)
A postman was convicted of football hooliganism at the World Cup in France in 1998, following a clash between rival supporters. He was tried and convicted in France and sentenced to 40 days' imprisonment. The activities of the football hooligans subsequently received a great deal of publicity in a UK national newspaper's "name and shame" campaign. The claimant was dismissed on the ground that he had brought the Post Office's name into disrepute. The Court of Appeal decided that the dismissal was fair due largely to the adverse press publicity (rather than the employee's conviction). The employer had been entitled to take into account newspaper coverage of the matter to support its decision to dismiss.
More on Post Office v Liddiard
(6) Pickett v Carpet Express Ltd (employment tribunal, 2001)
The mixed-race claimant in this case overheard a racist conversation between other employees about the performance of a black football player. The remark was not aimed at the claimant, but it was said in circumstances in which it was obvious that he was present. The claimant's supervisor was also present but did nothing about the comments. The claimant decided not to return to work and claimed race discrimination. The employment tribunal found that the claimant had suffered a detriment because all right-minded people would immediately accept the comments as being offensive. The employer was vicariously liable for the acts of the employees who made the comments.
More on Pickett v Carpet Express Ltd
(7) Geffken v Aviance UK (employment tribunal, 2005)
A Luton Airport worker of German origin complained of impersonations of his German accent and references to "Hitler" and to the German national football team. The employment tribunal found that the references to the football team were trivial in a working environment in which banter was common. However, the tribunal found that the claimant had been discriminated against on the ground of his national origins in relation to incidents in which he was shown a photograph of a bombed house and comments were made about a group of Jewish rabbis who had passed the claimant and some colleagues. These two incidents went beyond what was acceptable banter in that workplace.
More on Geffken v Aviance UK
(8) McCormack v Hamilton Academical Football Club Ltd (Court of Session, 2010)
Mr McCormack was assistant manager of Hamilton Academical for just two months before his dismissal for gross misconduct, after allegations of aggressive and intimidating behaviour towards players (including members of the club's youth team), liberal use of swear words, undressing in front of a female trainee physiotherapist and making inappropriate remarks to her and in her presence (he later apologised). He won his claim for being dismissed without notice. The Court of Session found that the claimant had a reputation as a hard man before he was appointed. If the football club had thought he should adopt a different style of coaching, he should have been given appropriate instructions at the outset. In addition, he was not given appropriate warnings about his behaviour.
More on McCormack v Hamilton Academical Football Club Ltd
(9) Martin and others v Professional Match Game Officials Ltd (employment tribunal, 2011)
A group of assistant referees who were not allowed to continue refereeing after they had reached the age of 48 brought age discrimination claims against the company for which they worked. The tribunal found that the company's aim of creating a career route from the bottom to the top of the game for match officials of appropriate ability, which implied a mix of experience, and therefore ages, at each level, was legitimate. However, the tribunal found that the means the company adopted to meet the aim was not proportionate. The company accepted that none of the claimants would have been dismissed or demoted on the basis of their performance had they not also been aged 48 or over: in other words, assistant referees over the age of 48 were held to a higher standard of performance as a condition of retention than their younger colleagues. The tribunal went on to find that, even if a retirement age policy was appropriate, the company had done nothing to show that the appropriate age is 48.
More on Martin and others v Professional Match Game Officials Ltd
(10) Lerwill v Aston Villa Football Club Ltd (employment tribunal, 2011)
In this case, Aston Villa sacked its football historian, who had supported the club for over 60 years. Mr Lerwill had his own unofficial website about the club, and regularly contributed to fan forums. After posting an article on an unofficial fan forum about a match, his line manager asked him informally not to make postings on websites other than of a historical nature. On a later occasion, he logged on to an unofficial fanzine forum, where he saw criticisms of an article that the posters assumed that he had written. In fact, the article had been posted by the club's media team, having been extracted from an interview that Mr Lerwill had given for the club's television channel. The criticism of the article "stung" Mr Lerwill, who posted comments denying his authorship and making a number of inappropriate statements. The club dismissed Mr Lerwill. The employment tribunal found that the club's decision to dismiss fell outside the band of reasonable responses. Mr Lerwill had never been given any indication of the severity with which the club would view his breach of the informal discussion with his line manager.
More on Lerwill v Aston Villa Football Club Ltd