Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Thema Williams’ civil suit against the Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation (TTGF) as well as its former president David Marquez, first vice president Akil Wattley, second vice president Ricardo Lue Shue and his wife and assistant treasurer Donna Lue Shue opened today with its first case management conference by Justice Seepersad.
And the TTGF, which is represented by attorney Justin Junkere, contended that Williams cannot sue the Federation in the High Court, due to a dispute resolution clause in the athlete’s agreement with the local sporting body.
Williams is suing the gymnastic body for its decision to replace her with alternate, Marisa Dick, on Saturday 16 April 2016, just 24 hours before she was due to compete in Rio Olympics Test Event. She has requested TT$11.3 million in damages.
The 21-year-old gymnast is represented by Keith Scotland, Reza Ramjohn and Martin Daly SC.
The TTGF’s request for arbitration and the timing of its decision to do so, since Williams tried to invoke the same clause nine months ago in a last ditch effort to prove that the body’s move to replace her was irrational and contrary to natural justice.
Williams’ attorneys previously maintained that the gymnastics body did not even have the courtesy to respond to her call for arbitration at the time.
Famously, in the case of 13 Trinidad and Tobago World Cup 2006 players against the Trinidad and Tobago Football Association for unpaid bonuses, the football body similarly called for arbitration in London—on the eve of the matter going to the Port of Spain High Court—lost the case at the Sport Dispute Resolution Panel (SDRP) and then tried to block the local courts from accepting the SDRP’s decision.
The TTFA’s legal footwork, choreographed by attorney Om Lalla, kept the matter in the courts for seven years.
It is left to be seen how the legal fencing plays out in this case.
Daly asked for the TTGF’s contention to be dealt with as a preliminary issue and Justice Seepersad agreed and set a timetable for the exchange of written submissions on the issue during the months of February and March. The Judge is then expected to give a decision by the end of March.
The TTGF’s attempted manoeuvre does not impact Williams’ case against Marquez, Wattley and the Lue Shues, who must all defend their own conduct in the matter of the change of athletes for the Olympics.
The quartet are represented legally by Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj SC while Ronnie Bissessar appeared on their behalf at today’s case management.
Williams’ legal team contends that the four gymnastics officials: “conspired and combined together wrongfully and with the sole or predominant intention of injuring [the dream of Thema Williams] and/or causing loss to [Williams] by depriving her of the opportunity to qualify for the 2016 Olympics and/or by wrongfully and/or in the circumstances set out at paragraph 19 above promoting Marisa [Dick] at the expense of [Williams].
“The motivation of the [Marquez, Wattley and the Lue Shues] was improper, wholly unreasonable, unfair, irrational and represented unadulterated opportunism to further a collateral purpose of victimisation and hatred of [Williams] and/or an illegitimate bias towards Marisa and/or a breach of the contractual obligations and/or duties owed to [Williams] by the Defendants or any of them.”
Marquez quit his role as TTGF president last August but it does not spare him the possible consequences of his actions.
At present, Andy Gomez-Burke is president of the local gymnastics body.