Leeds United executive dismissed for sending porn email five years ago

07 March

The High Court has found it was justifiable for Leeds United FC to dismiss one of its senior employees without notice for forwarding an email containing pornographic material to a colleague – in spite of the fact that he had actually sent the email five years earlier.

 

 

In the somewhat unusual case of Williams v Leeds United Football Club, Leeds United had decided to make Mr Williams redundant and had given him 12 months formal notice. However, a day after doing so it discovered that around five and a half years previously, he had sent a lewd email to a female junior colleague as well as two friends from other clubs. The club used this incident as a reason to summarily dismiss Mr Williams for gross misconduct.

 

In a decision which raised eyebrows amongst employment lawyers, the High Court found that Mr Williams’ conduct in sending the email did amount to a repudiatory breach of contract – meaning that Leeds United was entitled to treat his contract as terminated and thus avoid paying him the almost £200,000 in notice pay that he would otherwise have been entitled to.

 

This is often seen as a legitimate tactic by employers who are looking to save significant sums of notice pay when dismissing senior employees. However, employers should perhaps think twice before following the example set by this decision. It is evident that the club was treading on thin ice before Mr Williams’ dismissal; it had already purported to be dismissing him on the grounds of redundancy but had actually engaged investigators to seek out evidence of misconduct on his part in order to find a reason to avoid paying his notice pay. It was clear that the club had never intended to pay the full sum in any case. In a claim for unfair dismissal, where it is crucial that the employer has acted fairly and reasonably, such actions would be unlikely to endear an employer to an Employment Tribunal.

 

An appeal from Mr Williams may well be forthcoming.

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