Lawyers representing gymnast Thema Williams say financial compensation was not the focus of her lawsuit against the T&T Gymnastics Federation (TTGF) over her failed 2016 Olympic campaign.
Speaking to reporters outside the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain moments after High Court Judge Frank Seepersad ordered $200,000 in compensation in her case yesterday, Williams’ lawyer, Martin Daly, SC, suggested that the federation could have avoided the expense by admitting its executive was biased in replacing her at an Olympic test event in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in April 2016.
“This case was never about money. We would have settled this case on the basis of a written apology but they would not give us one,” Daly said.
“This case was about establishing that you are not allowed to take a child like this because she doesn’t belong to the right clique, and pelt she out. That is how I see it.”
Daly noted that Seepersad agreed with them that a handful of the federation’s executive members acted with an “entrenched bias” against his client.
Despite Daly’s statements on the insignificance of the compensation in the case, Williams was seeking millions of dollars in damages for endorsement deals and a scholarship she said she would have secured if she had become the first person to represent T&T in gymnastics at the Olympic Games.
In his 60-page judgement, Seepersad said he could not uphold these claims as Williams was unable to produce concrete evidence over the potential lost deals. However, he still ruled she was entitled to $50,000 in compensation, as it could be inferred that her earning power would have increased with her participation in the Olympics.
“While no documentation to this effect was adduced, the court formed the view that such a circumstance was natural, logical and plausible,” Seepersad said.
In addition to compensation for loss of opportunities, Seepersad also awarded her $150,000 in exemplary damages for the federation’s arbitrary conduct.
“They acted in a manner which was characterised by a degree of blameworthiness, as their biases affected their judgement and they failed to factor into their deliberations the vulnerability of the claimant or the potential harm that a substitution decision could have occasioned,” Seepersad said.
In a brief statement, Williams thanked God for the decision. She also suggested that her case may be beneficial to other local athletes.
“I hope it is a message to all federations in general over the effects that bias could have not just on the athletes but on the sport itself,” Williams said.
As part of her lawsuit, Williams was seeking to hold former TTGF president David Marquez, vice-president Akil Wattley, Ricardo Lue Shue and his wife Donna personally liable in the case.
While Seepersad noted that Williams was able to prove that Marquez and Wattley were biased against her and that the Lue Shues favoured her replacement Marissa Dick, he said there was no evidence that the group conspired to block Williams.
“It appears that their predominant motive was to ensure that the country had effective representation in the test event and given their view as to the availability and state of readiness of the alternate, they proceeded to effect an unadvised decision to replace the claimant,” he said.
Seepersad spent a large portion of the judgement analysing the process used by the executive to vote on replacing Williams.
According to the evidence in the case, their decision was largely based on a travel log from Williams’ coach John Geddert. In the log, Geddert revealed that Williams performed poorly at warm-up events.
Seepersad noted that although the executive members acknowledged that they needed more information from Geddert to determine if she should be withdrawn due to injury, they went ahead to prepare Dick without it. He noted that while Marquez claimed he tried unsuccessfully to call Geddart, telephone records showed that the calls were made well after he and executive members ensured that Dick was available to make the last-minute trip.
“The court formed the view that these defendants allowed their entrenched biases to cloud their judgement and they acted with undue haste, deprived themselves of the benefit of relevant information and ultimately effected a flawed decision,” Seepersad ruled.
He also noted that the federation also did not consult with its physiotherapist who was with Williams in Brazil.
As part of the decision, Seepersad granted a 28-day stay of the judgement and ordered the federation to pay Williams’ legal costs for bringing the action.
Attorney Ronnie Bissessar asked Seepersad to order Williams to pay the legal costs against the executive members as her claims against them failed. Daly suggested that Seepersad should make no order in relation to them as he found that they had acted with bias. Seepersad reserved the matter to give the parties time to file submissions on the issue.
The federation executive members were also represented by Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj, SC, while Keith Scotland appeared alongside Daly. Justin Junkere represented the federation.