Renee Mongomery vs. UNI Gyor: The Problems of Playing in Europe

FIBA's BAsketball Arbitral Tribunal (BAT) is the court of common-sense arbitration used to decide disputes between players and their European clubs. On October 7th, the BAT decided a case between Renee Montgomery and the Hungarian team UNI Gyor. Both sides made claims against each other, and the BAT partially upheld Montgomery's claim and dismissed UNI Gyor's claim entirely.

The Facts

Renee Montgomery's contract with UNI Gyor paid her $150,000 for the 2011-12 in eight payments. She would receive a 10 percent bonus if UNI Gyor finished in second place in the Hungarian league and 15 percent if they finished in first place. There were also boosts for winning the Hungarian cup and if the team placed in the Final Four of Euroleague 2011-12.

So what happened? Montgomery was scheduled to receive the first payment of 20,000 USD for passing the medical exam. But this payment was never made. On the 26th of October, Montgomery demanded that UNI Gyor pay within two days, and when they failed to pay, Montgomery skipped the next three basketball practices.

Thre days later - October 29th - UNI Gyor terminated Montgomery's contract, claiming a break of contract when she didn't show up to practices.

Montgomery stated that she showed up to all of her other practices, and before her holdout there were no complaints about her behavior, She wanted reimbursement for shipping costs and purchases for her apartment. Oh, and she was entitled to all $150,000 of her salary as well.

In November, she flew to Spain, trying to find a club to play for if UNI Gyor would release her license. They would not, and she was forced to fly back home. Therefore, she wanted her air fare paid as well.

UNI Gyor stated that by not attending practices and not notifying the club she was leaving that Montgomery was in breach of contract. They stated that the payment for passing the medical exam was not due until October 28. The delay in paying her first installment on her salary was caused by Montgomery refusing to open a Hungarian bank account, which the club claimed they requested several times. They alleged that the reason she refused the first installment was because she had no intention of ever playing for UNI Gyor.

UNI Gyor requested compensation for loss of sponsor confidence and the mental impact of Montgomery's departure on her teammates, although they declined to quantify any amount.

The Decision

Part of the BAT Tribunal deals with the conflicting dates offered in the contract and both of the parties as to when the medical exam took place and when Montgomery was notified of the results. After working it all out, BAT determined that UNI Gyor was 13 days late with the payment - not the 15 days required - when Montgomery started missing practices. However, BAT determined that since Montgomery had made a reasonable effort to communicate with the club and since her behavior had been good, she had not seriously breached her contract.

BAT decided that it was not necessary for Montgomery to have a Hungarian bank account - the contract allowed Montgomery to designate how - and where - she wished to be paid.

Therefore, since the contract was a "no-cut" contract, Montgomery would have been awarded her total salary of $132,000 plus the medical exam fee. However, since Montgomery had mitigated her losses by playing for Tarsus (Turkey) in March, her award was reduced to $83,000. As for the air fare, her contract states that air fare payment is not justified on early termination of contract, regardless of the reason. She received part of her air fare request, namely, the cost of flying to Spain to find work.

According to her contract, Montgomery was entitled to a "furnished apartment" with “a cable or satellite TV, DVD player, telephone, DSL high speed Internet and modern household appliances such as a washer and an electrical dryer for her clothing.” An extra $1000 was awarded as the cost for completing the furnishing, paid by Montgomery.

Perils of overseas play

One frequent point brought up whenever women's basketball fans gather to discuss the woes of the WNBA is that the players make much more money overseas than they do in the WNBA - and therefore, their minds are on the overseas paycheck rather than devoting their full attention to the W.

But cases like Montgomery's and others like it point out the downside of going outside the US to ply your trade. European clubs have been known to be late with payments (or skip payments), will interpret contracts to their own liking, fail to comply on some sections of contracts and try to hinder players from playing elsewhere. It took Montgomery a year before she was finally paid what she was owed, and the uncertainty of finding work cannot wear well on one's nerves.

Even though $150K/yr is a lot more than even the best players make in the WNBA, sometimes players earn every cent of that money just through sheer frustration. You're far away from family, and in a land where you don't speak the language, and when your club isn't cooperating with you, you can square the trouble. Here's hoping that Montgomery's next foray into European basketball meets with better luck.

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