Published: 10:00, 30 July 2012 |
Updated: 09:43, 10 January 2014
A former Gillingham FC player was unfairly sacked because he is black, a landmark tribunal has ruled.
Ex-striker Mark McCammon took legal action against the club for race discrimination after being dismissed for gross misconduct last year.
The 33-year-old claimed the League 2 club docked his wages, refused him treatment for an injury and fined him for not turning up in heavy snow.
He alleged he and other black players were treated differently from white players in the first race case a footballer has ever brought before an employment tribunal.
Now McCammon's case against his former club has been upheld by an Ashford employment tribunal, which decided he had been dismissed as an act of "racial victimisation".
The tribunal has reserved its decision on compensation until a hearing scheduled to take place on Friday, August 10.
A statement issued on behalf of McCammon spoke of his relief and delight at the verdict.
McCammon's barrister Rad Kohanzad said: "Usually, most disputes between club and player are dealt with by the Football League or the Football Association internally.
"However, this is the first race victimisation case that a footballer has brought before an employment tribunal, in a public forum.
"The employment tribunal unanimously found that the club racially victimised and unfairly dismissed Mr McCammon and that some of the witnesses who gave evidence against him colluded in preparing their statements."
The Gills, who strongly denied the allegations, have released a statement saying they are "hugely disappointed" and "staggered" by the decision and will be discussing the judgement with their lawyers.
McCammon, a former Barbados international, became the highest paid player at the club when he signed in 2008 - before being sacked for gross misconduct in 2011.
He took the Gills to a four-day tribunal for unfair dismissal, race victimisation and failure to pay wages.
The tribunal upheld claims of race victimisation by dismissal, unfair dismissal and unauthorised deduction from wages. It did not uphold a claim of race victimisation by detriment - a legal term for when someone is treated unfavourably because they have made a race discimination claim, aside from dismissal.
Witness statements revealed a bitter row between McCammon and Gills manager Andy Hessenthaler ended in them being separated as tempers flared.
The dispute came to a head with an extraordinary confronation in November 2010, when McCammon and fellow players Josh Gowling and Curtis Weston missed training due to the snow.
McCammon said conditions were too treacherous to make it in, but this was disputed by the club.
Chairman Paul Scally, who in his submission said he was concerned the players were 'trying it on', asked for photographs of the road around their home in Frindsbury Hill, Strood, to be taken.
McCammon claimed other white players were told not to come in and did not have photographs taken of the area around their homes.
Soon after an ultimatum from the club, there was said to be a furious row in manager Andy Hessenthaler's office.
McCammon accused the now former Gills boss of being "racially intolerant" and assistant Nicky Southall had to step in and separate the pair, the tribunal heard.
The striker was suspended, fined two weeks' wages and eventually sacked by the club following a disciplinary hearing.
McCammon, who was injured at the time of the bust-up, also alleged the club failed to pay for treatment that would get him fit again.
The club, he claimed, forced him to stay behind long after other players had left and he ended up watching "mind-numbing day-time TV and Britain's Got Talent".
McCammon also claimed the club tried to "frustrate him out" by refusing to pay for his medical care.
He was offered an operation for his ankle injury on the NHS rather than privately, which he claims was "out of character for a football league club".
"mr mccammon hopes that his success will make other players feel free to raise legitimate complaints of discrimination and not suffer the traumatic treatment that he has for doing so…” – mark mccammon's lawyer
The club said its policy was for non-urgent operations to be carried out on the NHS as a way of ensuring the club did not overspend on medical care.
McCammon's lawyer Sim Owolabi said: "Mr McCammon is relieved that he has been afforded the opportunity to put forward the truth about the experience he suffered at the hands of his former employers.
"He is pleased that the employment tribunal has found in his favour and feels that the judgment makes clear that his dismissal was not only unfair but an act of race victimisation.
"Mr McCammon raised a legitimate complaint of race discrimination, which the tribunal found that Mr Scally had discounted from the start as being without merit. Mr Scally did not bother to investigate the complaint and ultimately dismissed him because of it.
"The employment tribunal also made clear that the club’s witnesses not only colluded in the preparation of their witnesses statements leading to his dismissal but also colluded in the preparation of their evidence before the employment tribunal. Mr McCammon is astounded that the club went to such lengths to both dismiss him and win their case before the tribunal.
"Mr McCammon hopes that his success will make other players feel free to raise legitimate complaints of discrimination and not suffer the traumatic treatment that he has for doing so.
"He wishes to thank all those who stood by him during the very difficult and prolonged trial period which tested the courage of his supporters. Their support was invaluable and he now wishes to be able to put the matter behind him and carry on with his life."
A statement from Gillingham FC said: "Today we have received the decision of the Ashford Employment Tribunal which sets out their findings that Mark McCammon was unfairly dismissed and that his dismissal was an act of racial victimisation.
"We are hugely disappointed, in fact staggered, by this decision. As an organisation we are an equal opportunity employer and do not discriminate against, nor victimise our staff.
"This case is the first of its kind to be brought against the club in its entire history, a history that has seen the club employ many thousands of staff of various race, religion and creed, none of whom have ever felt the need to bring such a claim.
"Given the nature of the case, and the findings, we will discuss the judgement with our lawyers and decide upon the next course of action, whether that be an appeal against the findings, or another form of action, as deemed appropriate.
"There will be no further comment on the case by the club until the matter has run its full course."
McCammon ended last season with Lincoln City, but is now understood to be a free agent.
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