Employment Claims in Sport

Newcastle United

The former Newcastle United midfielder, Jonas Gutierrez, has won a disability discrimination claim after the club informed him he would no longer take part in the club’s future following his battle with testicular cancer.

The player launched his claim under the Equality Act 2010, which makes it unlawful to discriminate against workers because of mental or physical disability, and considers a cancer diagnosis to be a disability.

Mr Gutierrez alleged that the club did not play him so that he did not reach the 80 games needed to trigger a one-year extension of his contract. He was then released by the club when his contract expired.

Newcastle United have been found by the Employment Tribunal to have discriminated against Mr Gutierrez by deliberately managing his selection to avoid a potential extension to his contract.

Leeds United

Another football-related case concerning an employment law claim concerned a former Leeds United employee, Lucy Ward, who brought a claim for unfair dismissal and sex discrimination against the club.

Ms Ward worked as the club’s education and welfare officer, and claimed that she was sacked because she was former head coach Neil Redfearn’s partner.

The club which denied any wrongdoing, claimed she was sacked for exceeding her annual leave entitlement. However, the Employment Tribunal found that she had not exceeded her annual leave entitlement as she was working as a BBC pundit at the 2015 Women’s World Cup, which the club had previously supported. The club also claimed that Ms Ward repeatedly failed to work on a Wednesday, however her working pattern was found to have been known and approved by her manager.

In addition to the above, the Tribunal heard of an alleged conversation whereby the club’s chairman, Mr Cellino, had said “football is no place for women, they should be in the bedroom or the beauticians”.

The Employment Tribunal said that the club had taken a “sexist” view and ruled the reasons for her dismissal were “a sham”.

Shane Sutton

Shane Sutton, the British Cycling Technical Director, has resigned following a row concerning sexist and discriminatory remarks he is alleged to have made.

Mr Sutton was initially suspended following the results of two internal investigations into reports that he made derogatory comments about cyclist Jess Varnish and others. He is alleged to have told Ms Varnish she was “too old” and to “move on and go and have a baby” after she was dropped from the British Olympic track programme.

The British Cycling board held their ground and stated that she was dropped for performance reasons. Mr Sutton has denied making the comments.

Ms Varnish was later joined by Victoria Pendleton and Nicole Cooke (former British Cycling athletes) who both reaffirmed her stance that sexism is common within British Cycling.

Further allegations were also made when para-cyclist Darren Kenny said Mr Sutton had referred to para-cyclists as “wobblies” and “gimps”.

Following such allegations, Mr Sutton stepped down from his position as Technical Director and British Cycling announced that they would hold an independent review into the allegations.

These cases demonstrate that sports clubs and professionals are not immune from employment claims and that the sport industry itself is not above the reach of employment law.

If you have any questions arising from this article or would like further information on any aspect of unfair dismissal and discrimination, please get in touch with a member of our Employment team