Litigating in the Glare of Publicity

It takes a brave, or perhaps admirably thick-skinned, person to bring legal action against a former employer, particularly one that attracts incredible publicity and in an industry known for its heightened egos, celebrity and eye-boggling wealth.   Yet Dr Eva Carneiro’s determination to achieve a fulsome public apology from Chelsea Football Club, and high-profile recognition for her medical talents, appears to have succeeded.

Dr Carneiro and CFC settled their differences. However, the longed-for statement extracted from the Club well after the 11th hour, has not come without a price.  The (presumably) tactical reference in the Respondent’s filings to a previous financial offer of £1.2m to settle the case, attracted the overnight headlines, thus providing a rather different hue on proceedings.  This is what can happen when a case formally opens, allowing journalists to read-in, at the back of the courtroom and, in some circumstances, be spoon-fed the relevant passages of a Respondent’s Opening.  The gloves tend to come off in a PR war that runs parallel to proceedings inside the Tribunal, and the reputational blows can have longer-lasting effect.

Interesting, for some time the public has been led to believe that Dr Carneiro wanted a public apology from Mr Mourinho above all – yet noticeably this settlement announcement does not provide one.  The ‘Special One’ was forced to a South London employment tribunal to be put on the spot to settle or face the consequences. An appearance in Croydon probably wasn’t high on Mourinho’s wish list, but he had little choice.

Dr Carneiro may believe she needed recognition for her medical judgment in order to secure meaningful employment elsewhere.  Yet is she any more employable as a sports medic now, following Chelsea’s climbdown, than she would have been had she saved herself the exacerbation of ‘distressing and difficult times’ during the past 10 months, by not issuing proceedings?  Negotiating a severance package rather than litigating may have allowed her to have moved on more smoothly, without the enduring attention she will attract as she takes up any new employment. Perhaps though, maximizing attention became part of the game plan, thereby expanding her employment opportunities beyond the sports medicine sphere.  Pure speculation, but an interesting thought.

Of course, no one should have to put up with discriminatory or derogatory treatment in the course of doing their job – but many in less well paid circumstances do take the view that rushing to court is not the only way to put an end to inappropriate, and possibly unlawful, conduct.   There could well be a potential employer who decides to resile from taking on the extremely competent sports doctor in these circumstances because they fear attracting the spotlight of publicity that may follow after a high-profile bust-up with a former boss and employer.  This would never be publicly acknowledged as a reason against hiring, but I’d not bet against it featuring in future considerations – unless the new role would be enhanced by the increased publicity she will attract.

Employment rights are vital in any mature economy, but choosing how and when to rely on them is a practice not always best just left to lawyers.  There is often a reputation aspect to litigation that should not be underestimated. Hard working season ticket holders, having suffered years of ticket price inflation (until the price freeze), may well be wondering what language they’d each put up with for an annual salary of purportedly £280,000 + pitch side attendance at matches, before demanding a 40% salary increase.  Harsh, but true.

7 June 2016

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