Former GB cyclist, Jess Varnish to appeal employment status tribunal ruling

Year Published: 2019

Jess Varnish, winner of a gold medal at the 2011 European Championships, has lodged an appeal against her employment status loss at Manchester Employment Tribunal against British Cycling and UK Sport.

What’s Varnish’s employment status?

Alex Nortier, Employment Law & HR Solicitor at SAS Daniels Stockport

Alex Nortier, Employment Law & HR Solicitor

In December 2018, after several weeks of deliberation the Manchester Employment Tribunal ruled the former British cyclist was neither an employee or a worker of British Cycling or UK Sport. This decision meant that Varnish was prevented from bringing claims against both bodies for wrongful dismissal and sexual discrimination.

Varnish began proceedings after she was dropped from the British Cycling’s Olympic Programme in 2016. She claimed it was due to her criticisms about the decisions made by her coaches during the qualification period for the Rio Olympics. Varnish also claimed in April 2016 that the then technical director of British Cycling, Shaun Sutton, had told her to “go and have a baby” when she was dropped from funding before the Rio games. An internal investigation into the bullying claims found that Sutton, who had resigned shortly after the incident, had used sexist language but was not guilty of bullying.

Grounds for Appeal

Varnish has now filed an appeal at the Employment Appeal Tribunal against British Cycling but no appeal has been lodged against UK Sport. The grounds for appeal include, but are not limited to, that the tribunal erred in law finding that there was no “mutuality of obligation” between her and British Cycling and in deciding that the services and benefits received by the rider from British Cycling were not remuneration.

This relates to the central point of Varnish’s case that the organisation has extreme control over their athletes in that they decide who gets picked, when they train, what they can and cannot do in their spare time, while governing bodies can block athletes from working with sponsors that clash with their own but ask them to make promotional appearances for their benefit.

Another ground for appeal is that the Tribunal failed to explain how the work performed by a professional football player is different from the work performed by Varnish for British Cycling.

This case could have had significant implications because had Varnish been successful, the 1,100 elite athletes funded by UK Sport would have benefited from employment rights and a pension.

Before Varnish’s arguments will be heard again, an appeal judge will decide whether or not the former cyclist has a case for an appeal although this decision is not expected for a number of weeks. 

For more information on employment status and employment tribunals, please contact Alex Nortier in our Employment Law and HR team on 0161 475 1216.

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