The Former Leeds United Academy welfare and education officer Lucy Ward has won her claim for unfair dismissal and sex discrimination against the club, as a tribunal panel said they believed owner Massimo Cellino had made sexist comments about the place of women in football.
The Leeds panel described Ms Ward as an honest and truthful witness as they gave their judgement. She wept as the decision was announced.
The panel said they believed Cellino had made sexist comments to the manager of the United women’s team that women had no place in football and belonged in the bedroom or at the beauticians.
Ms Wardhad claimed unfair dismissal and sex discrimination against the Elland Road club.
The tribunal chairman, Employment Judge Stephen Keevash, said: “We conclude that this dismissal was unfair and that there was a gross unreasonable breach of the ACAS code of conduct.
“We find it extraordinary that this respondent (Leeds United) had no awareness of the ACAS code or what it contained and that it failed to comply with what are regarded as basic principles.”
The panel also judged former Leeds United executive director Adam Pearson not to have been a ‘credible or reliable’ witness when he gave evidence at the hearing to defend the decision to sack Ms Ward.
The hearing was told: “He was evasive and inconsistent.”
Judge Keevash said: “On the balance of probability we find that Mr Cellino told Mr Pearson that the claimant had to leave the club.”
Club secretary Stuart Hayton, who this morning denied there was a “culture of discrimination” at Elland Road, was also judged to have given evidence that was found not “entirely credible”.
After the hearing Ms Ward spoke of her relief at having her name cleared and said she was looking forward to returning to football.
She said: “I am really pleased. I have spent 17 years building up a really good reputation only for it to be destroyed by the current owners.
“It is a club that I have loved dearly.
“I have enjoyed all my time there. It is a bitter-sweet moment for me. It is a victory but it is difficult to describe.
“I am very proud of being part of Leeds United and all the lads that I have looked after over the last 17 years.
“There was a lot of things said about me that were not true.
“I look forward to the rest of my career, hopefully back in to football.
“It has been an absolute nightmare. The things people said were lies. I was wronged. When the club felt they could not win they attacked my character.
“However, Leeds United is a wonderful club - and it is my club.”
Describing her experience at the hearing, Ms Ward said: “I have been cross-examined for six hours but when you are telling the truth it is easier. I was proud that I was telling the truth.”
She said the ruling also demonstrated that Leeds United needed to “get with the times.”
She said: “I was a strong woman. It did not make me intimidating. I was a strong woman in the work place. My friends and my colleagues all knew what I was like.
“We worked very hard and we were successful while we were there.
“It was a victory but I would rather be at Leeds United looking after the kids.”
Earlier, the tribunal heard that the sacking of Ms Ward was “a fit-up job”.
In his closing submissions to the tribunal panel, her QC Nicholas Randall called the affair “an utter, total shambles”, and questioned why United’s owner Massimo Cellino had chosen not to give evidence.
The club claimed Ms Ward was sacked because she took an excessive amount of holiday in order to work as a commentator for the BBC at the 2015 Women’s World Cup in Canada.
But Mr Randall said: “The claimant (Ms Ward) was not hiding anything. My word, she was on the BBC in Canada commentating. She was open about her working pattern.”
He added: “What we know from the outset is that they were talking about the claimant.
“Mr Cellino - bang! - he is there right at the beginning of the process. Good old Mr Cellino.
“They were talking about her. Mr Pearson talked about the nature of the discussions. They were very robust in that she has got to go.”
“They also knew that she had permission. Amazing.”
He added: “It was a fit up job.”
Mr Randall asked the panel to consider why Cellino had not attended the tribunal to give evidence.
He said: “Mr Cellino is not here even though we know the principle allegation relates to him.
“It is quite clear that Lucy Ward was making other comments about his sexist attitude.”
He added: “You must presume that Mr Cellino would give damning evidence about his own attitudes.
“This has been an utter, total shambles.”
The barrister also referred to the allegations that Ms Ward was sacked as she came “as a pair” with Redfearn.
He said: “It is atrocious. To say these two people came as a pair. It’s the oldest dinosaur comment you can imagine.
“It shows stereotypical sexist assumptions about bred winners and the fact that woman cannot have an independent career.”