Hocus, aged 30, is a defensive midfielder. He has a contract with AFC Ilchester who are currently top of Division One of the Football Championship. He has played for the club for five years. In that time, he has scored 25 goals, eight of them in the last year and has an excellent disciplinary record. He got married two years ago and has two young children. His current contract is due to expire in 18 months time.
Ilchester are 15 points clear of their closest rivals and promotion is seen as a certainty. Much of the club’s success is attributable to a decision made at the end of last season by its owner, Pocus, to engage an outspoken but highly accomplished manager, Focus, who quite recently relegated Hocus to the subs bench. Coincidentally, six or seven years ago, Hocus, played under Focus at a Championship club, Paignton Albion.
Focus’ remit is to secure promotion as the first step towards Pocus’ ultimate goal of taking Ilchester into the Football Premiership. Focus has been provided with extensive funds, hence him purchasing a number of new players. He makes clear that although he appreciates Hocus’ abilities and professionalism, he is not “higher division material” and has arranged for him to be transferred on a free transfer at the end of the season to a less exalted Division I club, Grimly Bottom. As part of this process which has been overseen by Hocus’ agent, Freeloader, it has been agreed that any resultant reduction in Hocus’ contractual salary entitlement at his new club will be offset by Ilchester and that he will still receive a very generous end of season promotion bonus.
Initially, Hocus was very disappointed but he has no wish to remain on the sidelines at Ilchester and with some reluctance agrees to the move. However, he is not satisfied either that he will be adequately compensated or that Freeloader has acted in his best interests. He therefore decides to take over negotiations himself and has a meeting with Pocus. Aside from mentioning his long-standing commitment to the club, he stresses that he has only a few playing years left and that he needs to maximise his income. Hocus strenuously argues that two things have been overlooked. Firstly, he points out that on top of his wages, his current contract entitles him to a generous performance and goal scoring bonus that Grimly will be unable to match. Hocus also reminds Pocus that his shirt sponsorship will cease and that based on the enquiries that he and Freeloader have made, it appears that any replacement deal will, at best, be only worth a tenth of his current arrangement. Hocus claims that over the next 18 months he will effectively lose £100,000 and argues that in seemingly ignoring this, Pocus is quite wrongly misinterpreting the offset clause in his contract which makes it clear that he is entitled to be compensated for any such losses.
Pocus is unmoved. Hocus instructs solicitors and court action is threatened. An official from the Football League, Mr Tidyman, whom neither party see as impartial tries to broker a settlement and when he fails, he suggests mediation.
In the initial stages of the mediation, Pocus is as intransigent as ever and states that he will not settle. Hocus retorts that he has a cast iron case and that he is more than happy to have his day in court.
In his first private session, Hocus is very anxious and asks the mediator, Harris, to assure him that anything he says during private sessions will not be divulged to Pocus. With the benefit of Harris confirming that unless Focus instructs him to the contrary, complete confidentiality will be maintained, Hocus identifies two concerns. Firstly, he very reluctantly admits to having had an affair with Pocus’ wife whilst playing for Paignton and secondly tells Harris that after having played for Ilchester for a year, he became addicted to cocaine.
When their affair ended, Hocus swore Focus’ wife to secrecy. Focus has never given any specific indication that he knows of the affair. However, in the past few months he has made a number of cryptic comments. These remarks started around the time that the decision to relegate Hocus to the subs bench was made and it is only subsequently that Ilchester announced its decision to transfer him. Ilchester’s senior management were very supportive about Pocus’ addiction problem and unhesitatingly paid all the treatment costs which he estimates were something in the region of £150,000. This whole business has been kept confidential and it appears that not even Focus knows of it.
Hocus has told his wife of his past addiction but not his affair. He admits to not having thought things through and is concerned that if he pursues his case against Ilchester too vigorously, some of his skeletons might become public knowledge. He is surprised that Pocus who is not generally slow at coming forward has not thus far mentioned the rehab costs at all and suspects that this may be used later as a trump card. He stresses that he wants to try and resolve the matter through mediation and that in truth, the last thing he wants is a trial in court. At the close of this first private session, Harris encourages Hocus to reflect and without appearing to move things too quickly gently suggests that he gives some thought to putting forward settlement terms that he thinks might be mutually acceptable.
During his initial private session with Harris, Pocus makes no specific mention of any past events but says that he is very disappointed that Hocus has taken matters so far and that he really shouldn’t “bite the hand that feeds”. Pocus who is mindful that some of his past dealings might have been a little questionable also makes clear that he and Focus do not want the case to end up in court. He stresses that aside from the cost and any adverse publicity, he has a football club to run and that his one and only priority is promotion. However, Pocus makes it abundantly clear that at the same time he will not consider paying Hocus a sum in settlement in excess of £100,000. Pocus directs the mediator to convey his views on settlement to Hocus together with a suggestion that he reflects and “comes up” with a “realistic” settlement figure.
Hocus does reflect but is reluctant to suggest a settlement figure. Pocus is equally reticent and there are number of subsequent private sessions. Harris suggests that it might be helpful if Hocus was to put forward a figure. After two more private sessions the parties meet in open session.
For the first time in many years Hocus tells Pocus that he is truly grateful to Ilchester for the support given in the past. Pocus responds by assuring Hocus that he will never, ever mention past events. After some haggling it is also agreed that in addition to Ilchester paying the difference between Hocus’ current contractual wage and the equivalent amount that Grimly will pay him in the next 18 months, Hocus will accept £75,000 in full and final settlement of all other claims he may have against the club with each party being responsible for its own legal and any other incidental costs.
Because the parties very sensibly agreed to go to mediation, their respective legal costs are relatively modest and certainly are much less than if they had gone to court. Instead they both breathe a sigh of relief, safe in the knowledge that their skeletons will remain in their respective closets. A classic mediation win-win situation.
Principal Director of ASM PLUS, civil/commercial, workplace, employment, family and educational mediator and trainer with a judicial/legal background. He has knowledge and expertise in dispute resolution in a wide range of areas and disciplines and mediates online.