Thanks to James English of Hempsons solicitors for preparing this case summary
Is it a repudiatory breach of contract to forward an obscene and pornographic email at work?
Yes, held the High Court in Williams v Leeds United Football Club.
Mr Williams, a senior employee, brought a claim for wrongful dismissal against his former employer, an association football club. He had been dismissed, with notice, on grounds of redundancy. Within a week of being given notice, however, the Club summarily dismissed him on grounds of gross misconduct. It had discovered that over 5 years earlier, he had forwarded an email containing obscene and pornographic material (aptly described as 'dirty Leeds') to a junior female employee, and two friends at other football clubs. The club refused to pay him the balance of his notice pay, some £200,000.
Mr Justice Lewis, sitting in the High Court, dismissed the notice pay claim. Although it was clear that the club had planned to stop paying his notice pay before notice was served (knowing it to be a breach of contract) and had forensic investigators actively seeking evidence of misconduct, there was no evidence that they knew of the offensive email before redundancy notice was given. The sending of the email 5 1/2 years earlier was a breach of the duty of trust and confidence, particularly given his senior position. The nature of the images, the fact that it could amount to harassment of the female employee and the potential consequences to the club was sufficiently serious to amount to repudiatory conduct. The Club was thus entitled to dismiss him without notice.