Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Player's dismissal ruled unfair

Keith Mason now plays for Castleford Tigers

A rugby league star who was sacked after a photo of a team-mate's bottom appeared on his Twitter account has said he was delighted with a High Court judge's ruling that he was unlawfully dismissed by his former club.

Super League prop Keith Mason will receive around £167,000 in damages from Huddersfield Giants, the High Court in Leeds has ruled.

The picture was found on his iPhone by his girlfriend, Lauren Harwood, after the players returned from a drinking binge last September known in rugby league circles as Mad Monday - the day when players celebrate the end of the season.

She posted on his Twitter account - which attracted 4,200 followers - with the message "what the hell is this?" and it remained for around two days before Mason deleted it, the court heard.

Huddersfield Giants claimed the 31-year-old committed gross misconduct by not deleting it quickly enough and ended his £95,000-a-year salary last October, just one year into his four-year contract. The club said they became aware of the image of team-mate Scott Moore's bottom after complaints from supporters and sponsors.

Mason, who now plays for Castleford Tigers, challenged the decision but his appeal was turned down by his club. Backed by his friend, boxing world champion Joe Calzaghe, who attended the court proceedings on Monday, Mason's lawyers argued he was "tainted by dismissal", which was unlawful, and his potential earnings had dropped by tens of thousands of pounds.

The player also said he thought the timing of his sacking was suspect, as several new prop-forwards had been signed over the summer. He claimed he had been given the push to free up space in the salary cap for the new players - an accusation his former club flatly denied.

But the judge, His Honour Mr Justice Saffman, said there was "clear evidence" the Giants wanted Mason off their books, including emails outlining lucrative transfers to coax the prop away from his team. He ruled that Mason's actions could not be construed as breach of contract, and as a result his dismissal was wrong.

Reflecting on the Twitter incident, he said Mason was seriously hung-over following a Mad Monday "communal bender" but did eventually react when he realised the photo was online and deleted it.

Mr Justice Saffman said the sum of £167,000 reflected loss of Mason's actual and projected earnings. He said the legal costs of £35,000 for the three-day hearing will also be passed on to the club.

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