British Cycling

Our recent blog history might suggest that football is the only sport with a history of employment law issues. Well, we can now address this imbalance after the recent revelations about British Cycling technical director, Shane Sutton.

Cyclist Jess Varnish, who has recently been dropped by GB Cycling after failing to qualify for the Rio Olympics, alleges Mr Sutton said she had ‘a fat arse’ and told her to ‘go and have a baby’ she adds that she is raising the allegations in order to highlight attitudes in cycling.

Some might suggest Varnish’s claims are a reaction to her contract not being renewed but the allegations have been supported by Paralympic cyclist Darren Kenny, who claims that he and fellow Paralympians were treated less favourably and called ‘gimps’ by Sutton.

The issue of discriminatory, and in this case potentially harassing, behaviour at any workplace is something employers need to be careful of as they are vicariously liable for the treatment, meaning they could have claims brought against them and pay compensation if they lose. Furthermore the high profile nature of any discrimination claim, particularly if they are upheld, often leads to negative public scrutiny.

A further point is that criminal claims can be made using the Protection from Harassment Act, or, the Malicious Communications Act if the conduct is digital, which would not only result in a criminal conviction for the harassing employee but also potential damages awarded against the employer for vicarious liability. Interestingly criminal claims would not require the victim to have a protected characteristic like in employment cases.