Nigel Gibbs wins damages over Leeds United FC

 In Employment

The former Assistant Manager of Leeds United has been awarded £331,426 in damages following a hearing at the high court in which Mr Justice Langstaff ruled that his treatment amounted to constructive dismissal.

Nigel Gibbs joined Leeds United in April 2013 on a £200,000 a year fixed term contract. This included an annual salary rising to £220,000 plus benefits, and was due to end on 30 June this year.

Mr Gibbs had previously worked at Reading FC with former club manager Brian McDermott, and troubled developed when McDermott left Leeds United. Rather than give Mr Gibbs his marching orders the club asked him to stay on and discussed with him a promotion to head coach but Mr Gibbs indicated that he was not interested in taking over as head coach / manager.

Mr Gibbs was told to turn up at Elland Road in June 2014 despite the fact that all the players were on holiday and there was little work to do. He then learnt that he was not included on a list of staff who were due to fly to Italy for pre-season training. Mr Gibbs therefore approached club owner Massimo Cellino to ask what he should do with himself and was told that he could do some “cleaning work” around the training ground. The Judge was told that Mr Gibbs felt it obvious that Mr Cellino no longer wanted him at the club.

On 19 June 2014 David Hockaday was appointed as club manager. Mr Gibbs disagreed with the new manager’s approach to the game and it became apparent that the two did not have a happy working relationship. This clash of personalities led to Mr Gibbs being excluded from taking any meaningful part in the training of the first team. On 23 July 2014 Mr Gibbs received an email in which he was ordered to have no further contact or involvement with the first team – he was told to confine himself to working with the under 18, under 21 and non-first team players. Mr Gibbs told the Court that this was effectively a demotion to assisting Neil Redfern, the Academy Manager.

The Court heard that the final straw was the day after the email was received, when Mr Hockaday told Mr Gibbs he did not want him to be at the club. Two days later Mr Gibbs wrote to Mr Cellino resigning with immediate effect, just 15 months into his fixed term contract, as he felt his position had become untenable.

It has been widely reported that the issue to be decided in this case was whether Mr Gibbs simply chose to leave the club, or whether the club had constructively dismissed him, following a fundamental breach of his contract.

The Judge decided from the evidence in this case that the requirement for Mr Gibbs to confine his work to the under 18 and under 21 players was not reasonable, as an assistant manager should be involved with the selection, tactics and training of the first team. The Judge found that Mr Gibbs had been “disengaged” and “excluded” from playing any meaningful part in training the first team, and had not been given any appropriate work to do. He added that the email on 23 July 2014 had prompted him to resign and that this was what one would expect from a self-respecting person.

The judge therefore rejected the club’s claim that Mr Gibbs had “simply chosen” to leave his post, rather than being forced out, stating; “the loss of status would be plain, not only to the parties, but to others with whom the claimant had to deal. It would not meet the contractual expectations.”

The Court heard that Mr Cellino had approached Mr Gibbs in August 2014 and asked him to return to the club as Head Coach, following Mr Hockaday’s dismissal. Mr Gibbs told Mr Cellino he had no wish to return to the club considering how he had been treated by management. The Judge said Mr Gibbs “felt that his credibility with the players had been undermined by the actions of Leeds in sidelining him” and found nothing inherently unreasonable in his refusal as the club’s behaviour had made it untenable for him to return.

The judge therefore found in Mr Gibbs’ favour and has ordered damages of £331,426, which will be reduced to reflect any bonuses he receives from his new job as Assistance Head of Player Development at Tottenham. The damages are to be held by the solicitors acting for Mr Gibbs until agreement is reached regarding the amount to be withheld due to bonuses he is to receive.

Many reports have stated that the case considered whether Mr Gibbs was constructively dismissed. In our opinion, it is likely that the actual claim brought was for breach of contract. This is on the basis that the claim was brought in the High Court, and the level of damages that have been awarded. A constructive dismissal claim would usually be heard by an Employment Tribunal rather than the High Court, and any compensatory award would be subject to the Statutory Cap (£78,962 or 12 months’ gross pay, whichever is lower). Considering the level of damages that has been awarded to Mr Gibbs this is likely to be for breach of contract as we would estimate that the figure awarded is the full amount that would have been due to him under his fixed term contract.

We will keep an eye out for the judgment in this matter and attempt to provide clarification once this is published.

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