A judge has ruled that Jessica Varnish can sue British Cycling and UK Sport for sex discrimination, detriment suffered from whistleblowing, victimisation and unfair dismissal. According to the BBC, UK Sport had applied for a strike-out order to have her case dismissed.
Varnish was dropped from the Olympic programme in April 2016 and alleged that technical director Shane Sutton had told her to ‘go and have a baby’ when informing her of this.
Further allegations followed. While a British Cycling investigation cleared Sutton on eight out of nine charges of discriminatory conduct and bullying, the subsequent independent review into the culture of British Cycling was initially scathing in its assessment of how this process was carried out.
The draft version stated that British Cycling’s board had “reversed” some of the findings of the internal investigation – which was carried out by its grievance officer – and “sanitised” the subsequent report.
The termination of Varnish’s funding on the Olympic programme was also described as an “act of retaliation” for her criticism of team management after the failure to qualify the women’s track sprint team for the Rio Olympics.
The power of strike-out is used sparingly by the courts – and only for plain and obvious cases.
UK Sport is also said to have applied for a costs order and a deposit order, which would have meant Varnish's assets would have been seized pending the case – but again this is only granted when a case is considered weak.
A judge dismissed the applications on Monday, allowing Varnish to proceed towards an employment tribunal.
If she continues with her case, a preliminary hearing in April 2018 will determine whether or not she was effectively an employee of UK Sport and British Cycling.
Currently, athletes are not considered members of staff and so UK Sport do not have to pay pension and National Insurance costs. If the court rules that Varnish was an employee, it would potentially have far-reaching implications.
A source close to Varnish said: "She's not doing this for money. She's frustrated that neither UK Sport nor British Cycling have changed the grey situation that athletes still remain in.
"Athletes still have no real rights, no pensions, no grievance and whistleblower procedures, and no course of action, outside of civil action. There are some really deep-rooted issues which she's passionate about."
Last month, British Cycling CEO Julie Harrington said that Jessica Varnish “would be welcomed back” onto the Podium Programme if she could meet the required performance standards and credited her with being “a catalyst for this change” at the organisation.
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