Varnish wins right to appeal employment tribunal verdict


(Reuters) – Former European team sprint champion Jess Varnish has won the right to appeal after an employment tribunal ruled against her in January in her case against British Cycling and UK Sport.

Varnish, who was dropped from the British cycling squad in 2016 before the Rio Olympics, had sought to sue for wrongful dismissal and sexual discrimination.

The case had the potential to impact how UK Sport offered grants to British athletes, potentially forcing the governing body to introduce benefits and increased protection in the event of disputes or grievances.

“Today, at the Employment Appeal Tribunal, Jess Varnish won the right to a full appeal on the question of her employment status with British Cycling,” her lawyer said in a statement posted on the 29-year-old’s Twitter account.

Varnish had alleged in her complaint that she was the victim of bullying and sexist language, particularly from now-departed technical director Shane Sutton.

British Cycling had maintained that Varnish was dropped on performance issues alone.

She had also argued that her status was akin to an employee of the sports body and UK Sport, and she was therefore entitled to basic workers’ rights.

“We could easily have walked away after the original decision went against us. However, I believe we’re doing the right thing by not giving up,” Varnish said in the statement.

“I want to give athletes an opportunity to hold to account employees of governing bodies who … have significant control over their careers and opportunities.”

A British Cycling spokesperson told the BBC that the culture of the team had changed for the better since Varnish “first raised what everyone recognizes as legitimate concerns”.

The spokesperson added that the decision to contest the case was based on British Cycling’s view that its relationship with riders was not one of employer-employee but that of an organization that supported athletes.

“We will continue to represent what we believe are the best interests of every rider currently supported through the high performance system, and all those in our sport who hope to one day compete at an Olympics or Paralympics,” the spokesperson said.

Reporting by Simon Jennings in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford