Stephen Levine, the former general manager of Folkestone’s Leas Cliff Hall, has won an employment tribunal against venue operator Ambassador Theatre Group, after a ruling that he was unfairly dismissed from his post last year.
Levine was dismissed for gross misconduct in March 2012 following 17 years’ service. ATG had claimed that he had failed to follow health and safety policy and manage staff correctly.
However, overseeing the case at Ashford tribunal, employment judge Corrigan found that Levine had been unfairly dismissed, despite acknowledging that there had been issues with the theatre manager’s performance.
Corrigan said: “[ATG’s complaints against Levine] are performance matters and there are no reasonable grounds to consider them to be misconduct. I also take the view that dismissal for these matters is beyond the range of reasonable responses.”
The performance issues that ATG claims led to Levine’s dismissal included “gross negligence in relation to the management of health and safety”, including a failure to clean up pigeon guano that had built up in the theatre’s undercroft, and a “failure to effectively manage the venue and sustain effective working relationships with the team”, including deteriorating relations with his then-deputy Clive Watson, who has since become general manager of the venue.
Corrigan ruled that “neither of these matters really are properly characterised as misconduct”, but said that, had ATG followed proper process, there was a “significant possibility” that Levine would have been dismissed in any event.
Damages have not yet been determined. A spokesperson for ATG said that as proceedings had not yet concluded it was “inappropriate to comment at this stage”.
However, following the judgement, Levine hit out at ATG, claiming that increased ticket booking fees introduced by the company since it took over the running of the theatre in 2010 had led to dwindling audience numbers.
Prior to 2010, the theatre was managed by Live Nation, with the contract sold on to ATG as part of a £90 million deal to buy all of Live Nation’s UK theatres.
Levine said: “In the time I was at the Leas we had Ozzy Osbourne, Paul Weller, Stereophonics, Kings of Leon and many other great concerts and one-nighters, and together the team managed to build it in to Kent’s number one concert venue. However, ATG introduced more and more ticket charges and hidden fees many aren’t even aware they are paying, so we saw audiences dropping and shows staying away. It is so sad to see local people being deprived of the types of shows they became used to and that all the hard work is being undone, with fewer gigs and dwindling audiences through corporate greed.”
Responding specifically to Levine’s claims about increased ticket charges, an ATG spokesman said: “Leas Cliff Hall is a hugely popular venue with both promoters and customers. Last year we enjoyed sell-out gigs from Mumford and Sons, Keane, Kaiser Chiefs, McFly and Rizzle Kicks.
“Our ticketing operation sells tickets on behalf of producers or promoters bringing their shows to our venue. All, or the vast majority, of the sales income from the ticket goes to them, hence the need to charge for ticketing operations separately. That being said, ticket fees have been significantly reduced at Leas Cliff Hall since ATG acquired the venue. There are no hidden fees whatsoever, and booking fees only apply to customers who buy on the phone or online.”