The Football Association will be asked to launch an investigation into Leeds United owner Massimo Cellino and his former executive director Adam Pearson for alleged sexual discrimination, after an employment tribunal delivered a damning indictment of their decision to dismiss an experienced welfare worker from the club.
The tribunal found that Pearson had been “evasive” in his testimony about Lucy Ward - who is credited with a huge pastoral role in the development of Academy players for 11 years - and that Cellino had been sexist in making comments that women have “no place in football” and “should be in the bedroom or beautician’s.”
The Independent understands that Ms Ward's lawyers will now seek an undertaking from the FA to investigate the tribunal's finding of sexism. The FA has not yet responded to our request for comment.
The club had said that Ms Ward had been sacked last year because she had not sought approval at a high enough managerial level to take eight weeks leave to commentate on the Women’s World Cup for the BBC. But employment judge Stephen Keevash said that the reasons for the dismissal had been “a sham” and that and that there were no grounds to disbelieve Ms Ward's testimony concerning her application for time off to commentate.
Ms Ward claimed she was sacked because she was former head coach Neil Redfearn's partner and Mr Keevash said, on the balance of probabilities, Cellino told then club executive director Pearson that Ms Ward had to leave the club. The club attempted to portray Ms Ward as aggressive, controlling, manipulative and as having issues with the club’s Italian owner. The three-person panel found that she was none of those. She was a “credible and truthful witness.”
Mr Keevash, said: “We conclude that this dismissal was unfair and that there was a gross unreasonable breach of the ACAS code of conduct. We find it extraordinary that this respondent (Leeds United) had no awareness of the ACAS code or what it contained and that it failed to comply with what are regarded as basic principles.”
Ms Ward, who wept as the decision was announced, said she was looking forward to returning to football. She said: “I am really pleased. I have spent 17 years building up a really good reputation only for it to be destroyed by the current owners. It is a club that I have loved dearly. I have enjoyed all my time there. It is a bitter-sweet moment for me. It is a victory but it is difficult to describe.”
Of the claims that her exceeding her annual holiday allocation by 16 days to commentate on the World Cup was a breach of contract, her barrister Nick Randall QC said: “The claimant (Ms Ward) was not hiding anything. My word, she was on the BBC in Canada commentating. She was open about her working pattern.”
“What we know from the outset is that they were talking about the claimant (when sacking her partner Redfearn). Mr Cellino - bang! - he is there right at the beginning of the process. Good old Mr Cellino. They were talking about her. Mr Pearson talked about the nature of the discussions. They were very robust in that she has got to go. They also knew that she had permission (for extended leave.) Amazing. It was a fit up job.”
Mr Randall asked the panel to consider why Cellino had not attended the tribunal to give evidence. “Mr Cellino is not here even though we know the principle allegation relates to him,” he said. “It is quite clear that Lucy Ward was making other comments about his sexist attitude. You must presume that Mr Cellino would give damning evidence about his own attitudes. This has been an utter, total shambles.”
The barrister also referred to the allegations that Ms Ward was sacked as she came “as a pair” with Redfearn. He said: “It is atrocious. To say these two people came as a pair. It’s the oldest dinosaur comment you can imagine. It shows stereotypical sexist assumptions about bred winners and the fact that woman cannot have an independent career.”
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies