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Varnish loses employment tribunal case against British Cycling and UK Sport

Jessica Varnish (Halesowen A & CC)

Jessica Varnish (Halesowen A & CC) (Image credit: British Cycling)

Jess Varnish has lost the employment tribunal case that she lodged in December against British Cycling and UK Sport, according to a report published on BBC Sport. The former track sprinter attempted to prove that she was an employee of the sport federations so that she could then sue them for wrongful dismissal and sexual discrimination.

"Jess and her legal team continue to digest the 43-page judgement and will look to offer a statement to media on Thursday," said a spokesperson for Varnish, according to BBC Sport.

UK Sport said that they are now more confident in the working relationships between contracted national team athletes but that they will continue to “reflect on the concerns that were raised through the case,” BBC Sport reported. UK Sport also said they have already taken action to “strength duty of care and welfare provided to athletes” and that they “regretted that pursuing this case was considered the best course of action [Varnish] had to address the concerns she felt.”

The employment tribunal hearing came to a close on December 17, and the presiding judge said the decision would be made in January.

Varnish was 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. She claimed that she was an employee of British Cycling and UK Sport.

The employment tribunal considered if Varnish’s UK Sport funding and support from British Cycling meant that she was self-employed or an employee. Had she been successful in proving that she was an employee, all parties would then have faced another tribunal in this year.

Last year, Varnish had also 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 from his position at the federation, but was later cleared of eight of the nine allegations following an independent investigation into the culture of British Cycling's high-performance programme.

In her testimony to the tribunal, Varnish accused British Cycling of extreme control and that she was an employee because of the 'net of control' over her by British Cycling.

Simon Fenton represented Varnish and told BBC Sport that the case came 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."

BBC Sport reported that the outcome of the case would be a blow to any other Olympic athlete who had considered suing UK Sport and/or their respective governing bodies.

Varnish called three witness to provide evidence in her case against British Cycling and UK Sport, one of which was doctor Richard Freeman, the former head doctor at British Cycling. The judge accepted written testimony from Freeman after he failed to appear in front of the tribunal on his lawyer’s advice. He agreed with Varnish that the governing body had extreme control over the athletes.

Freeman is currently embroiled in an investigation by the General Medical Council over an apparently mistaken order of banned testosterone patches to British Cycling headquarters in Manchester, while he was the head doctor.

It was reported this week that the pre-hearing disclosure by the tribunal listed numerous allegations of 'dishonesty' attributed to Freeman. Freeman is expected to face the Medical Practitioners Tribunal in February.