Varnish calls former British Cycling doctor Freeman as witness in sex discrimination case

Jess Varnish (Great Britain) on the start line of her sprint 1/8 final race.

Jess Varnish (Great Britain) on the start line of her sprint 1/8 final race. (Image credit: Gerry McManus)

Jess Varnish will call on controversial former British Cycling doctor Richard Freeman to provide evidence on Wednesday to the Manchester Employment Tribunal as part of her sex discrimination case against British Cycling and UK Sport.

The hearing started on Monday and is expected to continue until December 17. The track sprinter is fighting for compensation, claiming unfair dismissal after she was dropped from Great Britain's elite track programme in 2016 and so missed out on the Rio Olympics.

The tribunal will ultimately decide whether Varnish was self-employed or an employee, and she could be owed the full legal obligation of her contract. If Varnish is successful at proving she was an employee, all parties would face a tribunal in 2019. A source close to Varnish said that she is not interested in a cash settlement, rather, she is "frustrated that neither UK Sport nor British Cycling have changed the grey situation that athletes still remain in."

Following Varnish's dismissal from the track programme, she accused former technical director at British Cycling Shane Sutton of using sexist and discriminatory language toward her, a claim that was supported by several other athletes.

Sutton resigned amid the controversy, which resulted in a full, independent investigation into the culture of British Cycling's high-performance programme. He was later cleared of eight of the nine allegations.

On Monday, both parties spent the first day at their employment tribunal reviewing each other's documents. BBC Sport reported that British Cycling and UK Sport have 4,000 pages up against Varnish. Varnish is set to call three witnesses to give evidence: Freeman, along with her partner Liam Phillips, a former GB athlete, and her agent James Harper.

Freeman is currently embroiled in the General Medical Council investigation in connection with a delivery of testosterone patches to British Cycling headquarters. Freeman was responsible for medical supplies at BC and Team Sky, but the team claimed the supply company shipped the banned substance in error.

Varnish's case continued on Tuesday, with The Guardian reporting that Varnish accused British Cycling of extreme control and that she was an employee because of the 'net of control' over her by British Cycling. In the document submitted to the Tribunal, Varnish also said she was punished for minor transgressions, told what to wear, eat and what to say publicly, and that she was punished for arriving late to training sessions, and that they kept records of her blood samples and skin fold tests.

Varnish did not receive payment through British Cycling, but UK Sport provided her with a reported £21,500 tax-free grant toward living and training costs. It was reported in The Guardian that UK Sport said Varnish was not an employee and did not work for the organisation. It said that she was the recipient of a grant, and not remuneration, to train for the Olympic Games and World Championships.

However, Varnish argued that she was supported by British Cycling and UK Sport with medical care, dentistry, psychological support, which was estimated to be worth about £23,000 to £40,000. She had joined the programme when she was 12 years old and moved to Manchester as a teenager with financial support from the UK Sport, and lived in a British Cycling-owned flat where she paid £250/month rent.

Simon Fenton is representing Varnish in the hearing and told BBC Sport that the case comes in a line of other employment cases the tribunal has heard.

"She was an employee (or worker), with the right not to be discriminated against," he said. "This case comes in a line of decisions from the cases of Uber, Addison Lee and Pimlico Plumbers which show how tribunals are looking at what actually happened in practice rather than simply accepting what is said in the contractual documentation. And they are deciding that the individuals are workers."

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