Former New York Cosmos Manager Alleges Breach of Contract

The Justice Department's recent indictments against several members of soccer's international governing body has sparked interest from around the world. But another recent soccer-related lawsuit out of New York City highlights the more routine types of civil and contract litigation that can arise when an employee is dismissed by his employer for cause. The lawsuit also highlights the importance of using an experienced New York civil litigation attorney when pursuing a local case.

Cantona v. New York Cosmos, LLC

In the 1970s and 1980s, the New York Cosmos were one of the premier teams of the North American Soccer League (NASL), then the top level of American professional soccer. In 2010, the Cosmos reformed as part of a new NASL, which now serves as a second-tier league behind Major League Soccer. To help rebuild the Cosmos, ownership hired Eric Cantona to serve as its Director of Soccer. Cantona is a world-renowned French player who won four English Premier League titles with Manchester United.

In January 2011, Cantona signed an exclusive four-year contract with the Cosmos. The contract guaranteed him total compensation of $3.9 million over the life of the deal. He would also receive a 4% ownership interest in the Cosmos once the team began competitive play in the NASL or Major League Soccer. The Cosmos played its first exhibition game, with Cantona as manager, in August 2011, and entered formal NASL competition in 2013.

Despite the team's early success, the Cosmos terminated Cantona's employment in March 2014. That same month, Cantona was arrested in London for assaulting a media photographer. In a formal letter, an attorney for the Cosmos said Cantona violated a clause in his contract which allowed termination for cause if he engaged in any action that brings “the New York Cosmos or its brand into material disrepute.”

Cantona filed a breach of contract lawsuit in Manhattan federal court. He said at the time of his termination, the Cosmos were already in breach, as they owed him more than $488,000 in back compensation. In his complaint, Cantona alleged the subsequent termination “was merely a pretext to cancel the agreement” that had been breached. Cantona said the Cosmos simply did not want to give him the 4% ownership stake he was entitled to once the Cosmos began NASL play. Cantona seeks more than $960,000 in back pay and the 4% ownership interest.

Dealing With Out-of-State Attorneys

Cantona's lawsuit almost ended before it began. The complaint was signed by Cantona's attorney, who is admitted to the bar in Florida but not New York. This is not uncommon. Lawyers from one state are often granted permission to participate in a lawsuit in another state. But the Cosmos' lawyers noted that if such permission is not granted in advance, the complaint itself may be dismissed, as it was never properly signed by a New York attorney. The matter was apparently cleared up on May 27, as the judge overseeing the case allowed the out-of-state attorney a chance to gain proper admission and serve the complaint on the Cosmos.

Minor procedural hiccups like this can be problematic if not corrected early. It is also a cautionary warning for anyone filing a civil lawsuit in New York. It is always best to work with a New York attorney properly admitted to practice before courts in the state. If you are in need of such an attorney, contact our offices today.