Jess Varnish to appeal against employment tribunal ruling

Cycling
Jess Varnish

Former Great Britain cyclist Jess Varnish has appealed against a ruling that saw her lose a landmark employment tribunal.

The 28-year-old failed to prove she was an employee or worker of British Cycling and UK Sport in January.

It meant Varnish was unable to sue for wrongful dismissal and sexual discrimination after being dropped by GB in 2016.

She is challenging the ruling relating to British Cycling.

A judge will now decide whether Varnish’s appeal can proceed.

Varnish – a former European team sprint champion – argued the governing body’s control over her made it akin to her employer.

Lawyers representing both British Cycling and UK Sport insisted the deal was more like a university grant, and the judge in the case agreed.

However, Varnish’s legal team believe their client has grounds to appeal on a point of law. Varnish’s lawyer Simon Fenton, of Constantine Law, said: “The appeal tribunal has been asked to overturn the original judgment and to decide that Ms Varnish was an employee.”

He said the tribunal was wrong on a number of counts, including in how it found the services and benefits she received from British Cycling were not remuneration; and how it “failed to explain how the work performed by a professional football player is different from the work performed by Jess for British Cycling”.

Background

Varnish began legal proceedings after claiming she was dropped from the UK’s elite cycling programme having failed to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics and told to “go and have a baby”.

An investigation found that former British Cycling technical director Shane Sutton, who had already resigned from the body, had used sexist language. He denies any wrongdoing.

The Australian was cleared of eight other charges, including making the “baby” comment.

British Cycling maintained Varnish was dropped on the basis of performances alone.

Varnish’s case was based on recent ‘gig economy’ cases which have seen some companies forced to accept that their apparently self-employed contractors are actually workers with employment rights.

She attempted to prove she was an employee at the tribunal in December by saying coaches had “extreme control” over cyclists.

Had she been successful, British Cycling may have had to pay her significant damages.

UK Sport could have been forced to overhaul the way it funds athletes. The funding agency gives more than 1,000 athletes up to £25,000 a year tax-free, but it does not offer benefits such as holidays, sick pay and pensions. If Varnish had won, it may have had to offer improved contractual terms, meaning fewer grants awarded to athletes, as well as more cases of wrongful dismissal being brought.

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