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Mourinho may be sued for discrimination

This case is a timely reminder to employers to review their policies and procedures for dealing with discrimination

Chelsea Football Club banned Dr Eva Carneiro from touchline duties after the manager Jose Mourinho criticised her for treating Eden Hazard during a match earlier in the season against Swansea City.  This has led to Dr Carneiro resigning and claiming constructive dismissal against her former employers, Chelsea FC.

The ban caused controversy in the sporting world and was considered by some as “public humiliation” by Mourinho of a member of his staff, leading to Dr Carneiro’s decision to leave.

It is likely to be argued that speaking out about Dr Caneiro publicly damaged the trust and confidence that is automatically implied into every employment relationship.

It is now understood that Dr Carneiro may, in addition, pursue a sex claim, including directly against Jose Mourinho on the grounds that he would not have made the same comments to a man in a similar situation.  The implication seemingly being that as a woman, she did not understand the “beautiful game”.

The FA carried out an investigation into the events which took place during the match in question against Swansea City in August 2015, and having found no evidence that discriminatory comments had been made under FA rules, no disciplinary action was taken by the FA against Mourinho. Dr Carneiro has stated that she was not spoken to personally during the FA investigation nor asked to provide a statement, although the FA have said that she was given such an opportunity.

Readers should be aware that discrimination claims can be pursued against individuals who are the alleged perpetrators of discrimination, as well as against employers.  There is no limit on the amount of compensation that can be awarded by tribunals in discrimination claims and, whilst compensation for discrimination is generally higher than that for other types of employment tribunal claim, in most cases compensation runs to just a few thousand pounds.

Employers facing discrimination claims arising out of their employees’ actions can argue that they are not liable for the actions of those employees on the basis that they took ‘all reasonable steps’ to prevent any such alleged acts of discrimination from occurring.

“Reasonable steps” can include having a suitable equal opportunities and grievance policies in place, providing up to date training on equality and diversity to staff and taking appropriate and timely action in relation to alleged acts of discrimination.  In practice, it is extremely rare for this defence to be successfully relied upon, and most employers will be legally and financially responsible for the discriminatory acts of their employees.

This case is therefore a timely reminder to employers to review their policies and procedures for dealing with discrimination and to remind staff of the very serious implications of discriminating in the work place.

About The Author

Padma Tadi – Employment Associate at Irwin Mitchell, IOR Partner.

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