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For­mer na­tion­al team coach Stephen Hart has won his US$742,444 (TT$5 mil­lion) law­suit against the T&T Foot­ball As­so­ci­a­tion (TTFA) over un­paid salary and ben­e­fits from his three-year stint in charge of the So­ca War­riors.

Dur­ing a hear­ing at the Hall of Jus­tice in Port-of-Spain yes­ter­day, High Court Judge Eleanor Don­ald­son-Hon­ey­well grant­ed Hart a de­fault judge­ment against the TTFA af­ter it failed to reg­is­ter a de­fence to his claim. 

The out­come in the case comes two months af­ter for­mer TTFA tech­ni­cal di­rec­tor Kendall Walkes al­so won US$783,000 for be­ing wrong­ful­ly dis­missed by TTFA pres­i­dent David John-Williams and the as­so­ci­a­tion’s ex­ec­u­tive in March 2016. 

Sim­i­lar law­suits, al­beit for less­er com­pen­sa­tion, have al­so been won by the as­so­ci­a­tion’s for­mer tech­ni­cal staff over the past few years. The cash-strapped as­so­ci­a­tion has al­so faced lit­i­ga­tion from sup­pli­ers over un­paid bills for goods and ser­vices pre­vi­ous­ly pro­vid­ed.

In his law­suit, Hart on­ly sought to re­coup his salary and ben­e­fits un­der his con­tract and not ad­di­tion­al dam­ages for the TTFA’s con­duct in his case.

Ac­cord­ing to his state­ment of case, Hart was not paid his US$20,000 per month salary from Sep­tem­ber to Oc­to­ber 2015 and from Sep­tem­ber and No­vem­ber 2016. Hart, who cur­rent­ly coach­es the Hal­i­fax Wan­der­ers in Cana­da, al­so claimed for the US$25,000 per month salary he would have earned be­tween De­cem­ber 2016 and De­cem­ber 2018 if his con­tract was not ter­mi­nat­ed in No­vem­ber 2016. 

His lawyers, Kei­th Scot­land, Reah Sookhai and Sher­iza Khan, con­tend­ed that he was en­ti­tled to the pay­ment as he was wrong­ful­ly ter­mi­nat­ed with­out rea­sons be­ing giv­en.

“The de­fen­dant has not on­ly failed to give rea­sons for its de­ci­sion to ter­mi­nate the claimant and al­low the claimant a just and fair op­por­tu­ni­ty to de­fend him­self against any al­le­ga­tions war­rant­i­ng ter­mi­na­tion but the de­fen­dant failed to pay the claimant the fringe ben­e­fits ow­ing due to the place­ment in the hexag­o­nal, in breach of claus­es three and eight of the con­tract, in breach of the con­tract,” his lawyers claimed. 

In ad­di­tion to the US$10,000 bonus for lead­ing to the team to the Hexag­o­nal stage of CON­CA­CAF World Cup qual­i­fi­ca­tion, Hart al­so claimed for US$7,444 in trav­el, food and bag­gage ex­pens­es he in­curred be­tween 2015 and 2016. 

Hart, a for­mer na­tion­al play­er, was the head coach of the Cana­di­an team be­fore tak­ing over the lo­cal job in June 2013. He led T&T in two rel­a­tive­ly suc­cess­ful Gold Cup cam­paigns in 2013 and 2015, where the team made it to the knock­out stage on both oc­ca­sions. But Hart was even­tu­al­ly sacked af­ter T&T were elim­i­nat­ed from the fi­nal round of qual­i­fy­ing for the 2018 World Cup in Rus­sia. At the time, his record was 16 wins, 12 draws and 15 loss­es in 43 match­es. 

Hart was briefly re­placed by Bel­gian coach Tom Saint­fi­et, who re­signed af­ter the team man­aged just one win and three loss­es dur­ing a 35-day pe­ri­od. 

In Jan­u­ary 2017, for­mer na­tion­al play­er Den­nis Lawrence was hired. Lawrence has not fared any bet­ter than his pre­de­ces­sors, as his team has on­ly been able to muster five wins and sev­en draws in 31 match­es with him at the helm. 

The TTFA has been al­so or­dered to pay Hart’s le­gal costs for bring­ing the law­suit.

In a brief in­ter­view with Guardian Me­dia yes­ter­day af­ter­noon, Hart, who flew in­to the coun­try for the judge­ment, said he was hap­py with the out­come.

While he ad­mit­ted that se­cur­ing his com­pen­sa­tion may take some time based on the as­so­ci­a­tion’s pre­car­i­ous fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion, he was still pleased to get past the first hur­dle in his le­gal bat­tle.

“I am re­al­ly and tru­ly grate­ful to all those who worked hard to bring this to a con­clu­sion be­cause it has been three years and it has not been easy for me and my fam­i­ly,” Hart said.

Asked why he did not seek ad­di­tion­al com­pen­sa­tion in the case for dam­age to his rep­u­ta­tion, Hart said he was on­ly con­cerned with what he was owed con­trac­tu­al­ly.

“I hold no re­al ill feel­ings. I am just hap­py that this part of it is over be­cause it has been a long wait,” he said.

Hart al­so de­clined to com­ment on the cur­rent state of the na­tion­al team.

“It is dif­fi­cult to com­ment on that be­cause I am on the out­side look­ing in. It is not my place to com­ment on oth­er peo­ple’s work and the pro­gram­ming of na­tion­al teams be­cause I am not privy to that sort of in­for­ma­tion,” Hart said.


SOURCE: T&T Guardian