Richard Keogh, who played for and captained Derby County FC (“Club”) for seven seasons has been awarded £2.3million in compensation for breach of contract by his former club following a decision by the English Football League’s (“EFL”) Player Related Dispute Commission.
Sequence of Events
The case arose out of events that occurred on 24 September 2019 which resulted in Mr Keogh sustaining a serious knee injury when a car that his then teammate, Tom Lawrence, was driving crashed into a lamppost. The incident happened after a team-bonding day which led to an alcohol-fueled evening between Mr Keogh, Mr Lawrence and another teammate, Mason Bennett.
The car crash happened when Mr Lawrence crashed into Mr Bennett’s car (which had stopped at a give-way line) before then careering into a lamppost. Both Mr Lawrence and Mr Bennett, who were over the drink-drive limit, fled the scene flowing the crash leaving Mr Keogh unconscious in the car. They returned to the scene 45 minutes later where they were arrested.
Mr Keogh’s injuries, which required surgery, ruled him out of playing for up to around 15 months. His contract with the Club was due to expire in June 2021 and under it he received a basic salary of £24,000/week plus bonus.
The Club told Mr Keogh that he could see out his contract, however that this would be subject to a severe pay cut. Mr Keogh did not accept this position and his contract was subsequently terminated in October 2019 by the Club with immediate effect and following a disciplinary process. His dismissal was on the grounds that his involvement in the incident that took place on 24 September 2019 amounted to “gross misconduct”.
At the time, the Club stated that it “will not tolerate any of its players or staff behaving in a manner which puts themselves, their colleagues, and members of the general public at risk of injury or worse, or which brings the club into disrepute”.
Meanwhile, Mr Lawrence and Mr Bennett, who both admitted to drink-driving and failing to stop at the scene of an accident in Derby magistrates court, avoided jail sentences but were ordered to carry out 180 hours of unpaid community service and banned from driving for two years.
Despite the strict stance the Club took with Mr Keogh and despite Mr Lawrence and Mr Bennett’s criminal convictions, the Club did not dismiss them but instead fined them six weeks’ wages.
Following his dismissal and a failed attempted to appeal the decision, Mr Keogh made a claim for breach of contract to the EFL’s Player Related Dispute Commission (the EFL’s internal dispute resolution body).
The Commission found that he “had not committed gross misconduct…had not brought the Club into serious disrepute, and that he had been wrongfully dismissed by the Club”. Accordingly, Mr Keogh was awarded £2.3million in compensation.
The Club appealed this decision to the League Appeals Committee, however, it was announced on 11 May 2021, that the Committee has dismissed the appeal, therefore, the decision of the Player Related Dispute Commission is being upheld.
Footballer’s Employment Status and Dispute Resolution
Professional football players are employees of their club and the legal relationship between the footballer and club is governed by a contract of employment.
Whilst footballers, therefore, enjoy full employment rights, when disputes arise you will very rarely see claims being brought in the national courts or Employment Tribunal. This is because, in many professional sports, disputes are primarily resolved by alternative dispute resolution mechanisms and internal tribunals (as was the case above).
This avoids the potentially slow and unpredictable nature of the national court or tribunal system and, more importantly, allows proceedings to remain private as clubs and sportspeople do not generally want to “air their dirty laundry in public”.
This article is provided by Burlingtons for general information only. It is not intended to be and cannot be relied upon as legal advice or otherwise. If you would like to discuss any of the matters covered in this article, please contact Richard Berry or write to us using the contact form below.