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Thema sues for $11.3 million! TTGF officials served pre-action protocol letters

What dollar value would you place on the trauma of being robbed the chance to compete at the Olympic Games?

Photo: Thema Williams of Trinidad And Tobago competes on the uneven bars during the 2015 World Gymnastics Championship in Glasgow, Scotland, on 23 October 2015. (Copyright AFP 2016/Andy Buchanan)
Photo: Thema Williams of Trinidad And Tobago competes on the uneven bars during the 2015 World Gymnastics Championship in Glasgow, Scotland, on 23 October 2015.
(Copyright AFP 2016/Andy Buchanan)

For 20 year old gymnast Thema Williams, it is worth TT$10 million. And Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation (TTGF) president David Marquez, first vice president Akil Wattley, second vice president Ricardo Lue and his wife and assistant treasurer Donna Lue Shue, have 10 days to pay that figure plus the cost of a scholarship to Michigan State University—which she turned down to chase her Olympic dream—or face action in the local High Court.

The total sum requested of Marquez, Wattley and the Lue Shues, which was sent to the officials this week via pre-action protocol letters, is TT$11,385,384.00 (US$1.7 million), exclusive of legal costs.

Williams’ legal action is spearheaded by attorney Keith Scotland with Martin Daly SC as leading counsel.

“Having conferred with the learned senior counsel and after our research in the matter,” Scotland told Wired868. “It is our respectful view that the action perpetrated against our client justifies a certain amount of punitive damages…

“I think we can agree that competing at the Olympic Games is a chance of a lifetime. And the cynical way it was taken away from Thema Williams warrants this sort of financial request.”

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation officials (from right) Ricardo Lue Shue, Elicia Peters-Charles and David Marquez pose with Sport Minister Darryl Smith (second from right). (Courtesy Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation officials (from right) Ricardo Lue Shue, Elicia Peters-Charles and David Marquez pose with Sport Minister Darryl Smith (second from right).
(Courtesy Ministry of Sport and Youth Affairs)

The TTGF is represented by Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj SC, although it is not clear whether the high profile attorney will individually represent the quartet of gymnastics officials. Wired868 was unable to reach the four officials.

Pointedly, Scotland said Williams’ legal team did not accept that the TTGF’s council members were lawfully able to hold their respective posts, due to alleged breaches of the gymnastics body’s constitution.

“We have certain information, which suggests that the provisions of Article 6 of the TTGF’s Constitution—regarding holding office for two years and for one term only, as well as the obligations included in that constitution with respect to the holding of annual general meetings—may have been violated,” stated Scotland’s legal document. “I also reserve my Client’s position regarding the TTGF’s compliance with the Registration of Clubs Act Chapter 21:01.”

The dispute between the respective parties centres around the TTGF’s controversial withdrawal of Williams from the Rio 2016 Olympic Test event, on the eve of the April 17 competition. She was replaced by her alternate, Marisa Dick.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnasts Marisa Dick (right) wave to the crowd during the Opening Ceremony of the Toronto 2015 Pan-American Games at Rogers Stadium, Toronto on July 2015. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnasts Marisa Dick (right) wave to the crowd during the Opening Ceremony of the Toronto 2015 Pan-American Games at Rogers Stadium, Toronto on July 2015.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

The TTGF said its decision to replace its qualified gymnast was taken on the back of an email from Williams’ coach, John Geddert, which said, among other things, that she was “nursing an injured ankle.”

“We are sincerely concerned for her health and cannot risk further injury,” stated a TTGF release on Saturday April 16.

However, Geddert subsequently claimed that the gymnastics federation took his words out of context—and with malicious intent—while a medical check-up allegedly cleared Williams within hours.

The TTGF’s action was also allegedly in breach of its contract with Williams, which suggested that she could only be excused from the Test event after consultation between the head coach, head of delegation, relevant medical personnel and the athlete herself.

The pre-action protocol letter described Williams’ withdrawal as “hasty, unfair and unconscionable” and claimed that the officials: “acted unlawfully and/or without lawful authority and/or in breach of fundamental justice and/or have treated my client unfairly and/or in breach of the contracts and/or membership rights.”

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Marisa Dick (centre) talks to Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation (TTGF) first vice-president Akil Wattley (right) at a local gymnastics meet at the Tacarigua Indoor Sporting Facility on 23 April 2016. Looking on (bottom left) is Dick's mother, Hannifer Dick. (Courtesy Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Marisa Dick (centre) talks to Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation (TTGF) first vice-president Akil Wattley (right) at a local gymnastics meet at the Tacarigua Indoor Sporting Facility on 23 April 2016.
Looking on (bottom left) is Dick’s mother, Hannifer Dick.
(Courtesy Wired868)

The legal document primarily used emails and What’s App messages to build a case of bias, conflict of interest, and surreptitious and unreasonable behaviour by the four TTGF officials. And an email from Wattley, which referred to Williams as “unsportswomanlike”, was said to have demonstrated ill feeling and bias against the former St Joseph’s Convent (Port of Spain) student and Tots and Tumblers gymnast.

If successful, Williams’ case can be a landmark action in holding sport administrators personally accountable for their actions.

(The Thema Move)

Excerpt:

As a result of the wrongdoing of all of you set out above my Client has:

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago international gymnast Thema Williams. (Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago international gymnast Thema Williams.
(Courtesy Allan V Crane/Wired868)

(a) Suffered psychological damage and significant associated stress, the full effects of which may yet unfold further;

(b) Suffered the huge loss of opportunity to be an Olympian, and an Olympian of historic stature as the first Olympic gymnast from Trinidad and Tobago and the lifelong opportunity for endorsements, motivational speaking engagements and related business opportunities.

(c) Suffered damage to her reputation, humiliation and embarrassment, both nationally and internationally, particularly having regard to the predominance of social media.

As compensation for the above my Client is entitled to very substantial general damages.

My client has also suffered special damage, some of which is still being quantified. As a result of the breaches of contract and other matters complained of above she has already suffered the loss of the opportunity of a scholarship as particularised below:

My Client did not proceed with an offer for the award of a four-year gymnastics scholarship at the prestigious Michigan State University to fill an open spot immediately for the fall semester 2014.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Thema Williams performs a handstand at John Geddert's Twistars Gymnastics Club in Michigan. (Courtesy Thema Williams)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Thema Williams performs a handstand at John Geddert’s Twistars Gymnastics Club in Michigan.
(Courtesy Thema Williams)

This scholarship was worth approximately $216,460 USD ($1,385,384 TTD) and my Client claims this sum as special damages.

Outline:

Tuition and Fees: $37,912.00 USD

Room and Board: $10,412.00 USD

Books and Supplies: $1,068.00 USD

Personal Expenses: $2,648.00 USD

Medical: $2,075,00 USD

Total Per Year: $54,115.00 USD

Total over 4 years: $216,460.00 USD (1,385,384.00 TTD)

I also advise that having regard to all the above, my Client will be entitled to declaratory reliefs from the High Court confirming that actions of the TTGF were mala fide and/or unfair and/or unreasonable and/ or arbitrary.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Thema Williams (centre) is flanked by (from left) Tots and Tumblers gymnastics club owner Annette Telfer and attorneys Keith Scotland, Dr Emir Crowne and Resa Ramjohn at a press conference on 27 April 2016 at the Virtus Chambers in Port of Spain. (Courtesy Wired868)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago gymnast Thema Williams (centre) is flanked by (from left) Tots and Tumblers gymnastics club owner Annette Telfer and attorneys Keith Scotland, Dr Emir Crowne and Resa Ramjohn at a press conference on 27 April 2016 at the Virtus Chambers in Port of Spain.
(Courtesy Wired868)

In light of the foregoing, I call upon you the TTGF and/or you Ricardo Lue Shue and/or you Donna Lue Shue and/or you David Marquez and/or you Akil Wattley within ten (10) days of the date to pay to my Client the total sum of TT$11,385,384.00 comprising the said TT$1,385,384 the special damages claimed together with the sum of $10,000,000.00 general damages and/or aggravated and/or exemplary damages, exclusive of legal costs.

For the avoidance of all doubt, the basis of my Client’s claim in aggravated and/or exemplary damages is that your wrongdoing was conscious and/or outrageous and/or cruel, completely unmindful as to the consequences for a young person aged 20, bidding to be an Olympian in historic circumstances, an opportunity that is age related and sensitive to the four-year Olympic cycle.

Your conduct may alternatively also be categorised as harsh and oppressive and has caused damage to my Client, which cannot be satisfied by an award of compensatory damage alone.

I have advised my Client that she is entitled to an award of exemplary damages because justice to her is not likely to be seen to be done without it.

Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation second vice president and former president Ricardo Lue Shue (left) shakes hands with SPORTT Company official Anthony Creed. Lue Shue will act as Marisa Dick's coach in Brazil. (Courtesy SPORTT)
Photo: Trinidad and Tobago Gymnastics Federation second vice president and former president Ricardo Lue Shue (left) shakes hands with SPORTT Company official Anthony Creed.
(Courtesy SPORTT)

I am further of the view that insofar as the actions of you, Ricardo and/or you Donna Lue Shue and/or you David Marquez and/or you Akil Wattley, as agents of the TTGF and/or on your own behalf were calculated to provide to Ms Dick and by extension yourselves an opportunity for profit.

This too entitles my Client to claim exemplary damages from you.

If no satisfactory response is received to this letter within 10 days of its date as requested above, my Client shall initiate proceedings in the High Court of Justice without further notice to you.

Please be guided accordingly.

About Lasana Liburd

Lasana Liburd
Lasana Liburd is the managing director and chief editor at Wired868.com and a journalist with over 20 years experience at several Trinidad and Tobago and international publications including Play the Game, World Soccer, UK Guardian and the Trinidad Express.

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209 comments

  1. Wonderful for out of every evil deeds cometh good. Best news and I ‘m happy for Thema.

  2. Taxpayers have no liability here are the Government would have to be insane to assume responsibility for any award under the circumstances.

  3. Take them to the cleaners. Hope they win big. Send a clear message to other interfering sporting bodies like the TTFA. Let DJW backside squeeze for his interference earlier this week. No man is an Island.

  4. I have a thousand question for all who agreed with this move but I will only ask two… Where is the ttgf getting that money from? And if it us tax payers, could she have made half of that through out her career I say no but to sue for that is wicked and greed and absolutely to love for country so is this amount justifiable?

    • Wicked and greed? Were u following this story?? Wow..Also thankfully u spared us those ‘thousand questions’ but freedom of speech I guess.

    • Bro you serious? Let me answer your question, $11.3 million cannot make up for what she lost in this missed opportunity. Can you put a price on the history of being the first to represent T&T in the Olympics in the discipline of gymnastics? What is money? Money is a material possession and can finish whereas history of being the first lives on forever and you can’t put a price on that.

    • In short Ted Browne. The TTGF is not being sued. You misread the article. Individual officers are being held to account. There is a difference.
      It is like suing Anil Roberts for missing money from Life Sport rather than suing the Ministry of Sport.

  5. Well done. Hope all the other sporting officials taking notes. For too long our athletes have been getting a raw deal from these officials who feel they are above the law. Set the bar high Thema. May God continue to richly bless you.

  6. I don’t think that our courts generally award punitive damages in the same manner as US courts so the figure won’t stand.

    What is important is the principle of holding the Federation accountable. Theway this was put across makes me think the Federation was setup like the old TTFF in which the office holders are personally liable. If so, they are screwed.

  7. TTGF probably wanted to flip when they got that letter.

  8. Let’s see that good samaritan for the TTGF come thru in 5 4 3 2…..or does he/she only fork out for plane tickets??

  9. they wont get anywhere near that…but always sue on the high side.

    The thing is it is unprecedented i think (subject to correction) for a court to ever target the personal funds of someone for actions like this. Will make for interesting times.

  10. Shelly Shell this made my night ?

  11. Where screwy Lee shoe finding thaaaaaaaatttt? ?

  12. Her only chance to represent her country and who knows if she may get that opportunity again in 4 years…..clean out gyul!!!

  13. U are right hope she wins set a precedent

  14. So little? Would of gine for twenty million.

  15. Great! Athletes need to put their feet down. Thema is setting the precedent… athletes are tired of abuse, disrespect, and favoritism. This is a shot across the bows of every T&T sports organization… win or lose! Take that in your pwfenn

  16. I don’t think I can put a dollar value on Thema being robbed of a chance to go to the Olympics from her perspective but from my perspective robbing me…I will turn that TT to US $ 11.3. That opportunity is invaluable.

  17. Let’s see how long they’ll string her along for.

  18. all unfair games must play over……

  19. Every damn pennie! Not one cent short. #all

  20. they better not come and beg the government for money… #@!%%@# none of that bs

  21. Let us see what comes of this

  22. By the time she done with them she could keep she own Olympics. 😀

  23. Excellent! Just disappointed about one thing, the Dicks should have been included in the lawsuit.

  24. Well this should be interesting!