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Vancouver Canucks sued over wrongful dismissal

Vancouver Canucks co-owner Francesco Aquilini pauses for a moment during a news conference in Vancouver in 2008. A respected sports psychologist is suing the Vancouver Canucks and Mr. Aquilini over allegations of wrongful dismissal and breach of contract.

Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press

A respected sports psychologist is suing the Vancouver Canucks and one of the team's owners over allegations of wrongful dismissal and breach of contract.

Bruno Demichelis developed a sports science centre credited with reducing player injuries while working for the Italian soccer club, A.C. Milan, according to a statement of claim filed with B.C. Supreme Court. His lawsuit claims that he was hired away from Chelsea by the Canucks, but let go in January.

None of the claims in the lawsuit has been proven in court and the Canucks have not yet filed a statement of defence.

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Mr. Demichelis said that in 2009, he joined Chelsea Football Club as a first assistant coach and set up the "mind room," which led the soccer team to its 2009-10 Premier League and Football Association Challenge Cup victories.

Canucks' co-owner Francesco Aquilini visited Mr. Demichelis in 2010 in London to learn about the club's facility and the mind room, the documents say.

"During the visit, Aquilini asked the plaintiff to leave his employment with Chelsea F.C. in order to move to Vancouver and work for the club and the Canucks," the claim says.

Mr. Demichelis declined the offer, the documents indicate, but add that Mr. Aquilini returned a second time in 2010 and again in 2011, after the Canucks lost the Stanley Cup final, to try to persuade him to work for the team.

"During the third visit, Aquilini told the plaintiff that he was very concerned about the physical and psychological condition of the Canucks players, and the negative impact it had on their performance in the Stanley Cup final," the claim says.

"Aquilini told the plaintiff that he was the person the Canucks needed to improve the players' physical and psychological condition, and ultimately, their performance."

Mr. Demichelis alleges in the court document that Mr. Aquilini could not match the money he was making in England but that he agreed to join the Canucks for an annual salary of $700,000 and a signing bonus of $400,000 between July 1, 2012, and June 30, 2014, and that the contract was partly written and partly oral.

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"In order to further induce the plaintiff to accept employment with the club and the Canucks, and forego his other employment opportunities, Aquilini promised the plaintiff that together, as business partners, they would also market the plaintiff's sports science technology to other professional sports clubs throughout North America and the world."

But in December, 2012, during the NHL lockout, Mr. Demichelis accuses the Canucks of firing him because the club was unable to apply on his behalf for an extension of his work permit because "there are qualified Canadians available to do the work."

Mr. Demichelis said he was informed that his job as director of human performance would be terminated on Jan. 31, 2013.

The claim alleges the Canucks informed Mr. Demichelis that the team had posted an ad for his job and that out of the 59 applicants, 29 Canadians met the requirements for the position.

However, the job description "in no way reflected the skills and expertise that the plaintiff possessed, and for which the plaintiff was recruited by Aquilini and the club."

The claim also says that after his job was terminated, Mr. Demichelis obtained his Citizenship and Immigration Canada records and discovered that his previous two work permits, for which the Canucks applied on his behalf, were issued under the "significant benefit" category.

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For a work permit to be issued under this category, the work the plaintiff was to perform in Canada must be of "significant benefit to Canada."

Mr. Demichelis alleges in the documents that he moved his family to Vancouver to work for the Canucks and suffered mental distress as a result of Mr. Aquilini's actions.

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