Laura Macdonald | Senior Associate

British cyclist, Jess Varnish, fails to establish employee or worker status

Former Great Britain cyclist, Jess Varnish has lost her Employment Tribunal claim against British Cycling and UK Sport.  In her claim, Ms Varnish claimed that she ought to be defined as an employee or worker, given the “extreme control” that she alleges that the coaches had over the cyclists.

Varnish’s claims in the Manchester Employment Tribunal included wrongful dismissal and discrimination on grounds of sex, following her being dropped from the UK Elite Cycling Program after failing to qualify for the 2016 Rio Olympics and alleges that she was told to “go and have a baby”.  An investigation found that British Cycling Technical Director, Shane Sutton (who had already resigned from the body), had used sexist language but was cleared of making the “baby” comment.

Had Varnish won this claim, it could have led to fellow athletes following suit, and seeking to establish worker or employee status with their relevant sporting body.

In light of the decision that Varnish did not qualify as an employee or worker, the Tribunal then does not have the jurisdiction to hear her claims for wrongful dismissal or sex discrimination.

It remains to be seen whether Varnish will submit any appeal against the Judgment, and would have 42 days to do so.

While this is not the victory Varnish would have hoped for, the case does raise concerns regarding the treatment and support of athletes, and may encourage others to speak out, or take legal action (be that in the Tribunal or pursue claims in the civil courts) unless changes are made.

Laura Macdonald

Laura Macdonald

Employment Law Team

“I strive to provide clear and practical advice to clients, focussing on the individual or organisation’s particular circumstances and requirements.”

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