Evans v IRFB Services (Ireland) Ltd

JurisdictionIreland
JudgeMr. Justice Clarke
Judgment Date11 April 2005
Neutral Citation[2005] IEHC 107
Docket Number[No. 548 P/2005]
CourtHigh Court
Date11 April 2005

[2005] IEHC 107

THE HIGH COURT

[No. 548 P/2005]
Evans -v- IRFB Services (Ireland) Limited

BETWEEN

GEOFFREY EVANS
PLAINTIFF

AND

IRFB SERVICES (IRELAND) LIMITED
DEFENDANT
Abstract:

Employment law - Wrongful dismissal - Interlocutory injunction - Alteration in duties and responsibilities - Whether fair case to be tried - Whether damages an adequate remedy - Where did balance of convenience lie

The plaintiff was employed by the defendant company as Head of Rugby Development. The defendant was engaged in a reorganisation and proposed altering the duties and responsibilities of the plaintiff. The plaintiff contended that the proposed alteration in his work conditions amounted a breach of his contract of employment. He instituted proceedings and applied for interlocutory relief.

Held by Clarke J. in making an order precluding the making of an appointment to the new position pending the trial of the plaintiff’s action that such an order would meet the reasonable requirements of the plaintiff and would not really act to the significant detriment of the defendant. As long as the proceedings were in being the defendant would in any event have to operate on the basis that the plaintiff might be successful and the court could make orders affecting any appointment.

The Court also indicated that it proposed imposing strict terms to ensure an early trial.

Reporter: R.W.

Mr. Justice Clarke
1

The plaintiff is employed by the defendant company as Head of Rugby Development. The defendant company is an operating company of the International Rugby Board ("the IRB") which is the worldwide governing body for Rugby Union and is charged with the governance and development of rugby worldwide. The IRB is made up of constituent members from 113 rugby playing countries. Amongst other things the board is the law making body for rugby and organises the Rugby World Cup tournament which is played for every four years by the leading rugby nations. The IRB is managed by a council which is representative of the member countries while its day to day activities are managed through two principal operating entities being the defendant company and a separate company called Rugby World Cup Limited.

2

Following a distinguished career as both an international rugby player for Wales and as a senior rugby administrator (in a variety of honorary positions), the Plaintiff was approached in mid 2001 by the then chairman of the defendant company the late Vernon Pugh QC. At that time the plaintiff was employed as Head of the Department of Applied Science in South Bank University London. The post involved him being in charge of 45 academic staff, 40 research students together with having responsibility for administrative and technical staff and a substantial undergraduate department. The post was permanent and pensionable and at the time carried with it a total remuneration of STG£55,000 per annum.

3

Following discussions the plaintiff was persuaded by Mr. Pugh to apply for a vacancy for a post then known as "game development manager" with the defendant company. Despite an initial reluctance the plaintiff applied for and was appointed to the post.

4

The only contemporary documentation concerning his appointment is to be found in a letter dated 17th June, 2001 from Mr. Pugh confirming the defendants offer of the position of Game Development Manager. Insofar as material to these proceedings the letter provided as follows:-

(a) 5 years, commencing September 1st 2001
As per attached job description
5

As per standard IRB conditions, namely, gross misconduct and similar liable to summary dismissal; serious misconduct and/or dereliction of responsibilities and/or repeated failures or inability to perform the obligations of the post satisfactorily, following such due notice and standard employment procedure."

6

It should also be noted that the letter concluded by indicating that Mr. Pugh would ask a Darren Bailey "to draft a full form employment contract for your consideration."

7

On the evidence before me it does not appear that any such draft contract was in fact produced but the plaintiff nonetheless took up duties and carried them out without, it would appear, any difficulties arising, until the latter part of 2004.

8

The above brief account is by way of background to the dispute which has now arisen between the parties and which has given rise to the current application for interlocutory relief. It is common case that in the latter part of 2004 the defendant became engaged in the consideration of a plan to reorganise its structures. While there is some dispute between the parties (which is not capable of resolution at this interlocutory application) as to just how far reaching that reorganisation actually is, it seems to me to be clear, on all the evidence, that it can reasonably be characterised as significant. The difficulty which has arisen in respect of the plaintiff's position stems from the fact that one of the areas which is most significantly affected by the reorganisation is the area in which his post lies. It is also common case that in the period between his original appointment and the emergence of disputes between the parties the plaintiff's post had been altered to some extent not least in its redesignation as head of game development. A principal feature of the proposed reorganisation involved the amalgamation of that department with the tournament's department to form a new rugby department.

9

While there are also disputes between the parties (again, not capable of resolution on an interlocutory hearing) as to the precise circumstances and terms in which the plaintiff was informed of the reorganisation and his position in relation to it there seems little doubt but that both parties at least contemplated the possibility of the plaintiff departing from the employ of the defendant. The Defendants case is that it entered into such negotiations with the Plaintiff on the basis that its chief executive, Mr. Mike Miller, was of the view that the plaintiff might not be happy to work within the new structures and in particular might be unhappy about the fact that it had been determined that on an interim basis the head of the new rugby department would be the former head of the tournament department Mr. Mark Egan. While it is clear, therefore, that the defendant contemplated the possibility of negotiating a severance on the part of the plaintiff and would have been prepared so to do provided appropriate terms could be agreed, it is by no means clear that the defendant was necessarily determined that the plaintiff should leave its employment.

10

Equally from the perspective of the plaintiff while it is clear that he entered into negotiations which might have led to his departure on agreed terms it is not clear that he, at any time, necessarily gave up hope of being able to continue in his existing position most especially if terms which he found acceptable for his departure could not be negotiated. Whether the plaintiff's contention that the defendant was determined to remove him from his position or the defendants contention that the plaintiff has maintained these proceedings solely to enhance a severance package are correct are both matters that can only be determined after a full trial.

11

It is in those circumstances that the plaintiff's case needs to be evaluated on the basis of the now well established principles concerning the grant of an interlocutory injunction.

It is therefore necessary for me to consider three matters:-
12

(a) has the plaintiff made out a fair case to be tried.

13

(b) if so would damages be an adequate remedy in the event that such a case was ultimately successful and

14

(c) in the event that damages would not be an adequate remedy where does the balance of convenience lie?

15

I deal with each in turn.

16

At its simplest the plaintiff's case is that he has a fixed term contract of employment for a period of five years and that he is entitled, for that period, to carry out duties similar to those set out in his...

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