NEWS: Newcastle United Football Club Found Guilty of Disability Discrimination

When Newcastle United midfielder, Jonas Gutierrez, was diagnosed with testicular cancer, his club discriminated against him rather than supported him.

Jonas Gutierrez

What duties does an employer have towards disabled employees?

In another case that proves that football clubs are not above the law when it comes to employment rights, the Employment Tribunal found that Newcastle United was guilty of disability discrimination when they dropped Gutierrez after he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

The 32-year-old had been a regular at St James’ Park before his cancer diagnosis, scoring 10 goals in 177 appearances at the time of the return of the illness in 2013 and his subsequent treatment.
The Argentinian sued Newcastle United for £2m over the way he was treated following his diagnosis and claimed the Premier League club saw him as a liability after he returned from treatment.

Gutierrez, also alleged that he was not selected for some of the second half of the 2014-15 season

The Magpies avoided relegation on the final day of the campaign, so the club would not trigger an automatic one-year contract extension.

Under the Equality Act 2010 it is against the law to treat an employee less favourably because they have a disability. Cancer is automatically counted as a disability under the Act. Where an employee has a disability their employer is also under a duty to make reasonable adjustments to their employment to help alleviate any disadvantage in comparison to employees who do not have a disability.

Giving evidence at the Employment Tribunal, Gutierrez’s mum said:

“I was so distressed at what they had done to Jonas that I just wanted to take my own life at the club’s door.”

In her written witness statement, she said “I asked…what the club would do if I were to commit suicide at the stadium, leaving a note explaining that this was due to the despair that I felt about the discrimination that my son was facing.”

In their judgment the Tribunal found that, “Just over two weeks after the claimant returned to the club in November 2013 following his diagnosis and treatment, and at a point when he was match fit and returning to action he was told that he no longer featured in the club’s future plans. We conclude that the decision to drop the claimant was because of the claimant’s cancer.”

The tribunal found that the club had failed in their duty to make reasonable adjustments.

Gutierrez was not considered for selection following his return to fitness until he could not achieve the 80 Premier League starts required over the length of his four-year contract to trigger the extension.

As a result of his absence because of cancer, Gutierrez had only 121 games instead of 152 to earn his extended deal. The Tribunal found that the club had discriminated against him by requiring him to have the full 152 games – this was a failure to make reasonable adjustments.

The midfielder is now playing for Deportivo La Coruna in Spain, showing that not all football clubs take the same attitude towards disability as Newcastle United. This case makes clear that if you have a disability your employer is under a duty to make reasonable adjustments to your employment and cannot dismiss you because of your illness.

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