In the recent case of Gibbs v Leeds United Football Club Limited, the High Court considered this question. The High Court had to decide whether Mr Gibbs was constructively dismissed due to a fundamental breach of contract by the Club or whether Mr Gibbs chose to go without any such breach.
By way of background, Mr Gibbs had a previous career as a professional footballer playing for Watford Football Club who later became a qualified coach holding a UEFA Pro Licence. In 2006, Mr Gibbs began worked for Reading Football Club and laterally from 2009 worked as a First Team Coach which is a role he described as identical to that of Assistant Manager and worked closely with Mr McDermott. Due to poor results, Mr McDermott and Mr Gibbs were dismissed.
Mr McDermott was interviewed for the post of Manager of Leeds and indicated that he would wish for Mr Gibbs to be his Assistant Manager if he was appointed. Mr McDermott was appointed and Mr Gibbs accepted the role of Assistant Manager of the Club on a fixed term contract ending on 30 June 2016. For the first year, Mr Gibbs was to be paid £200,000 per annum and for the second year, £220,000 per annum.
In May 2014, Mr McDermott was dismissed. Mr Gibbs was offered the role of Head Coach of Leeds but indicated that he would not be interested in this role. He expected to be dismissed as he was accustomed to an environment in which a new manager might expect to bring in his own assistant, and in which an assistant would be seen as responsible together with the manager for tactics and team selection. Mr Gibbs was asked to continue with his role whilst discussions were held regarding a possible consensual departure.
The Club announced during a press conference on 19 June 2014 that Mr Hockaday was to be appointed Head Coach/manager of the Club and Mr Lewis was to be appointed as Assistant Coach. It was also stated that Mr Gibbs was to remain part of the staff. The relationship between Mr Gibbs and Mr Hockaday was not a happy one. Mr Gibbs was not assigned any work to do and reported that he was unhappy about the situation and made clear that he wished to be assigned proper work appropriate to his role as Assistant Manager. Mr Gibbs was excluded from training schedules and did not go with the first team to a pre-season friendly match which would have been expected if he was performing his usual duties.
Mr Gibbs was sent an email stating that with immediate effect he was to have no contact or involvement with the Club’s first team and that his role should be confined to working with the Under 21s, Under 18s and other non-first team players. Mr Gibbs then resigned with immediate effect.
The High Court held that it was not a breach of contract for Mr Gibbs to initiate a discussion regarding the possibility of agreeing a termination package as he had remained ready and willing to carry out his duties. The email sent by the Club was a fundamental breach as it led to a plain loss in status and role and therefore Mr Gibbs succeeded in his claim for notice pay.
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