Footballer Jonás Gutiérrez has won a disability discrimination claim against his former employer Newcastle United Football Club, after being dropped as a result of him fighting testicular cancer.
Gutiérrez issued employment claims against the Club after managers told him he would no longer feature in the Club’s future just two months after he had surgery for his cancer.
Birmingham Employment Tribunal heard how the Club did not play him after that so he did not reach the 80 games needed to trigger a one-year extension of his contract. He was then released by the Club last summer when his contract expired.
Gutiérrez’s employment claims were brought under the Equality Act 2010 which makes it unlawful to discriminate against workers because of mental or physical disability and considers a cancer diagnosis to be a disability.
The Club has been found by the Employment Tribunal to have discriminated against Gutiérrez by stopping his selection to avoid extended his contract. The Tribunal found in favour in two of the player’s four claims and he could receive up to £2 million pounds in compensation, to be decided at a later hearing.
It was held that the Club has deliberately managed the Claimant’s selection to prevent him triggering the option of extension. The Tribunal concluded that the reason why the Club managed the Claimant’s selection was because they no longer wanted him at the Club because of his cancer.
Gutiérrez told the Birmingham Tribunal “I think they feared that my illness would mean that I could no longer play at the highest level and they considered me to be a liability rather than an asset to the Club”.
During cross-examination, the Club’s lawyer claimed Gutiérrez was “just in it for the money” to which the player said “I am not in it for the money, I want to do this for all the people who have problems with their employers.”
This case highlights that football clubs are not immune from employment claims and that the sports industry itself is not outside of the law. The Employment Tribunal has made it clear that a premier league football club owes the same duties to a disabled person as any other employer.
This serves as a stark reminder for all sports clubs including football clubs that they must take expert sports employment law advice when dealing with termination of employees including player contracts or when employees suffer injury or ill-health that may affect their employment and sport. The case also gives great hope to employees who have similar complaints or who have recently suffered a similar fate.
Farleys Solicitors specialise in all areas of sports employment law for all types of clubs, including football clubs and all levels of employees in sports clubs including directors, senior executives, managers, coaches, medical staff and players.
If you require any advice or support including in relation to employee exits, severance packages, settlement agreements, breach of contract, re-structures, redundancies, grievances, disciplinaries and/or representation in formal meetings, processes or in any English Tribunal or Court, please contact us or call 0845 287 0939.