Written by John Appleby, Solicitor & Mediator at Leonard Gray.
This case involved a professional footballer in a Second Division Club who had been dismissed and was subsequently suing for breach of contract.
The footballer represented by his Solicitor had been taken on by his club about 2 years previously. He had signed a document headed “Not a Contract” which set out the names of the parties, the player’s duties with regard to training and attending matches, pay, holidays and various “Perks” such as reduced price season tickets, use of a car etc. The club was represented by the Manager, owner, Solicitor and Barrister.
It was agreed that this was a 3 hour mediation and the parties wanted to get on with the negotiations in the hope that litigation could be avoided.
It was anticipated that if litigation went ahead then each party would probably pay in the region of £20,000 legal costs at least (and quite possibly more) if there was a final hearing.
The club were very clear that the player was not contracted to them. They felt that they had simply given him a list of expectations for clarification.
The player was equally convinced that he had a contract, despite the document he had signed saying “This is not a Contract”. The legal representatives for the player said the document had all the hallmarks of a contract as it set out pay, terms and everyone clearly expected it to be binding. The document had become a contract on the first payment of wages.
The first thing a court would have to decide was whether the document signed was a contract or not. The parties’ legal representatives each had various legal precedents they had brought with them over the interpretation of what constituted a contract or not.
I tried to divert the parties from strict legal arguments over contracts. This was clearly a case where a Judge would have to make a judgment on whether the document was a contract or not. I would not be drawn into giving any opinion on this. What I did concentrate on was trying to explain to the parties that here was an opportunity over the next 3 hours to resolve their differences without the delay, uncertainty and expense of litigation. The parties were all commercial in their approaches realising that if they were going to spend £20,000 or more on litigation then they might be able to reach an agreement on the evening where they could come to an amicable settlement and dispense with the matter. The player wanted to get on with his career playing for another club in due course. The club did not want a challenge to the document the player had signed as this might set a precedent for other such cases. (I established these matters in private meetings with the participants and their legal representatives).
The club agreed to pay the player £10,000 within 7 days. No admissions of liability were made. There was a confidentiality clause agreed that the player would not discuss the outcome of the case, particularly to the press etc. The settlement was achieved on a practical pragmatic basis. The club knew that even if they won the case it would probably cost them around £20,000 in legal costs and there would be publicity. The player knew that if he won the case he would have to find many thousands of pounds in legal costs to get to a final hearing (which he was struggling to do) and the outcome was uncertain. He might also suffer adverse publicity.
So this was an instance of where all the parties came out winners on the evening of the mediation and litigation was avoided. We were able to agree in mediation the confidentiality clauses for both parties, time, uncertainty and expense of litigation were avoided.