Football focus

In January, we read about the outcome of a wrongful dismissal case at Sunderland and since then the world of professional football has continued to prove fertile ground for employment lawyers.

On 13 April 2016 it was reported that Lucy Ward had won her employment tribunal claim against Leeds United.

Ms Ward, a former footballer who represented England at U21 level, worked at the club’s education and welfare officer. However she was dismissed from that role, ostensibly for taking excessive time away from work to commentate on last year’s Women’s World Cup in Canada. However, she alleged that the real reason for the dismissal was that the club also intended to dismiss her partner (Neil Redfearn, the first team coach) and perceived that he and Ms Ward ‘came as a pair’.

The tribunal accepted that the process followed had been unfair and upheld her claim.

Although there are examples where the tribunal has found that dismissing one spouse because the other has been dismissed was fair, such circumstances are likely to be very rare. In any such case it is incumbent on the employer to ensure that the process followed is beyond reproach.

On 14 April, it was reported that Jonas Gutierrez had succeeded in his claim for disability discrimination against Newcastle United.

The midfielder claimed that, despite having returned to fitness, he had been dropped from the first team because he had suffered from testicular cancer and that, as a consequence, he had been unable to trigger an automatic contract extension based on the number of Premier League matches he was able to start.

All employers should be aware that cancer automatically qualifies as a disability under the Equality Act 2010 so employees that are suffering (or who have suffered) from cancer can rely on all the protections that are afforded to disabled employees.

The next big story in football is set to be the tribunal hearing of Eva Carneiro’s claims for sex discrimination and constructive dismissal, which is scheduled to start on 6 June.

Dr Carneiro resigned from Chelsea FC having been criticised by then manager Jose Mourinho, and apparently dropped from first team duties, for having gone on to the pitch to attend to midfielder Eden Hazard, with the result that Chelsea were temporarily reduced to 9 players.

A judicial mediation hearing concluded without a settlement and some sources are reporting that the outcome of the final hearing might impact on Mourinho’s chances of securing a potential role at Manchester United.

Dominic Bonham