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.