A lack of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic professionals holding leading positions in professional football in England has been discussed at length and remains an issue, but increasing concerns are also being felt regarding discrimination against professionals with disabilities.

The Equality Act (2010) is in place to protect individuals against discrimination on several grounds, including disability, and this extends to conditions such as cancer, even if the person is fully recovered. A high profile case concluded in April 2016 involving Jonas Gutierrez, a footballer under contract with Premier League club Newcastle United.

Gutierrez contracted testicular cancer in October 2013 and was fully recovered by November 2014. The Argentinean footballer left the club in the summer of 2015, however, after his contract was not renewed by Newcastle. Although he was selected for some games between October 2013 and May 2015, these were not sufficient to trigger a contract clause which entitled Gutierrez to an extra one year contract extension.

The player claimed he had been ‘frozen out’ due to his cancer treatment and successfully took Newcastle United to an employment tribunal. Gutierrez will be awarded up to £2million in compensation as a result of winning two of the four claims he brought against the club. These were a case of ‘direct discrimination’ ie. he was treated less favourably by his employers because of his diagnosis, and a ‘failure to make reasonable adjustments’. This second claim against the Equality Act (2010) was on the grounds that Newcastle United didn’t take any steps to avoid any substantial disadvantage being suffered by Gutierrez.

This was a landmark case in professional football as it highlighted that all employers have the same duties under the Equality Act (2010), and even highly-paid professional footballers are protected under discrimination law.

Of course this legislation also covers less well-paid professional players lower down the football pyramid and professionals in other sports, who suffer the same level of discrimination due their conditions, and are unfairly treated or dismissed as a result.

For more information on disability discrimination, contact Yunus Lunat, Head of Employment at Ison Harrison.

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