Still in the Game – EA Sports Temporarily Halted from Dismissing Director

Author: Siobhán Lafferty and Brian Hammond

January 30, 2019

A Director of the Irish subsidiary of video game company Electronic Arts (the “Company”) has been granted a temporary injunction preventing his dismissal from the Company.

In Grenet v Electronic Arts Ireland Limited[1], Mr Philippe Grenet (the “Employee”), who is the Senior Director of Global Service Delivery and EA Site Lead in EA Ireland (the “Company”), was dismissed in November 2018. This occurred following a one on one phone call with a director of EA Inc. in the USA, where the Employee allegedly made an inappropriate comment to that director. Subsequently, he made an ex parte application seeking to prevent the Company from:-

  1. Taking any further step to implement the purported dismissal of 14 November 2018; and
  2. Appointing any other person to his role until hearing of the interlocutory injunction application.

On 10 December 2018, the Employee received a letter from Mr John Pompei, Head of Player Experience Operations, who is based entirely within the USA and importantly, within the parent organisation of EA Sports Inc. That letter withdrew the initial dismissal and provided him with a separate notice of no-fault termination under his employment contract. The Company argued that it was entitled to terminate the employment contract on its contractual terms.

The Employee argued that his contract provided for the right to a grievance and disciplinary procedure which he was not granted. As was put to the Court, the no fault termination was cloaked ‘in new and relatively see-through clothes’. The Company contended that there was no entitlement to fair procedures or a right of prior consultation which complies with the contractual notice period where misconduct is not the reason for dismissal.

The Court held that based on precedent, it is open to employees to challenge a no-fault termination which is ’dressed up’ to avoid unlawful conduct, based on strong and clear evidence to support those claims. It held that the state of evidence illustrated that on the balance of probabilities, the no-fault termination was a “cynical contrivance”.

Ostensible Authority

The issue of “ostensible authority” arose as part of this hearing. This was because John Pompei, who had signed the no-fault termination letter, was neither an employee nor an officer of the Defendant Company. Mr Pompei believed he had the ostensible authority to act on behalf of the Defendant Company even though he was employed by the ultimate parent corporation of the Defendant. Although the Court did not make a binding determination on this point, it did note that as the Defendant Company was incorporated in Ireland, they therefore subject to the Irish laws in relation to directorships, and the duties and obligations which follow.

Findings

Mr Justice Tony O’Connor stated that the defendant had not established that damages were an adequate remedy for the Employee given the impact the loss of his employment would have on his ‘personal, family and professional life. He subsequently made a number of orders, including the following:

  1. An interlocutory order requiring the defendant to pay the plaintiff’s salary and emoluments as they fall due pending further order and
  2. An interlocutory injunction restraining the defendant from recruiting or appointing any person to replace the Employee or to fill his current role pending further order at the trial of the within proceedings.

This is an interlocutory order only and the matter will be back before the courts later in January.

[1] [2018] IEHC 786

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