Soccer Contract Squabble Moves Off the Field and Into Court

Posted November 21, 2012 in Labor and Employment by

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In a wealthy and exclusive Northern Florida community, soccer fights reached a whole new level with the grown-ups. The director of coaching described a nasty vendetta leading to his employers not paying his salary. Trey Clark claimed the Ponte Vedra-Palm Valley Athletic Association breached his employment contract and the association’s president, John Lazzara, interfered with that contract. Clark said on Sept. 1 he stopped receiving any compensation although he was owed more than $30,000.

If you thought high school was bad, read on. Clark’s complaint described a plot thicker than “Mean Girls:” Clark banned a volunteer coach for screaming and cursing at a field marshal during a game in front of seven and eight-year-old girls. But the cursing coach was a close friend of Lazzara’s, who was outraged by the dismissal. Lazzara called the Ponte Vedra Soccer Club commissioner, demanding that he fire Clark. He emailed the club, announcing his father’s foundation would no longer support them. He devised various ways to reduce Clark’s pay. Members of the club’s board of directors started to circulate a petition to recall Lazzara. Finally, the complaint stated, Lazzara threatened that if the commissioner pushed for his recall he would “make his separation a ‘blood bath’ for PVSC members.”

Lazzara’s lawyer, R.H. Farnell II, declined to comment on the case. However, Lazarra provided this statement to Lawyers.com:

“I consider it a honor to serve the families in our community as the president of the PVAA and appreciate the tremendous support I have received. As the facts of this case come to light it will be made clear that the allegations raised are baseless and without merit. It is regretful that our athletic community have been subjected to such false claims and I look forward to seeing these issues resolved so that we can get back to what is important – fostering and encouraging interest and participation in athletics for the youth in our community.”

Aside from the drama, this case raises the larger legal question: What can you do if an employer does not pay you?

Florida employment lawyer, Scott Behren, at Behren Law Firm, said an employment agreement provides a person with an expectation of payment for work performed. “If a person works, they are entitled to be paid. Even if the person does not perform to your expectations, they normally would still be entitled to be paid.”

Scott Behren

If people are not paid for their work, they have actions of recourse. They can contact a lawyer, who will often send a demand letter to get the employee paid. The worker can seek assistance from the U.S. Department of Labor. There are regulations mandating minimum wage, and not paying an employee at all violates this regulation. If federal and state laws mandate different minimum wage rates, the higher rate would apply.  Several states also have state departments of labor, which will investigate claims. Behren noted that although Florida has a minimum wage, it does not have a state agency that enforces wage and hour laws. The Miami-Dade Wage Theft ordinance guards against underpayment or non-payment of wages. If a hearing examiner finds an employer violated this law for work performed in the Miami-Dade County, the employee will be entitled to receive back wages in addition to liquidated damages from the employer. In Florida, Broward County also recently passed a similar ordinance, where employees who are owed as little as $60 can file a claim.

“There are a lot of instances especially of lower paid people who are not getting paid what they are entitled to for services rendered,” said Behren.

With the Ponte Verde soccer case, Farnell filed a motion to kick the case of out court. He asserted Clark’s contract was with the Ponte Vedra Soccer Club, not the Ponte Vedra-Palm Valley Athletic Association. Thus, the association could not breach a contract to which it was not a party. He also argued under Florida law, corporate directors are not liable for actions they take in business, absent criminal conduct, fraud, self-dealing or unjust enrichment. Clark made no such accusations against Lazzara.

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