EPL Gender Discrimination Claim Makes Waves in the U.K.

Owen H. Laird, Esq.

In a reminder that gender discrimination is not only a problem in the United States, the former team doctor for a top English Premier League football team recently settled her gender discrimination claim against the club on the eve of trial. Eva Carneiro was the lead doctor for Chelsea Football Club until a feud with the team’s manager over her decision to take the field to tend to an injured player triggered a series of events that ultimately led to Chelsea demoting Ms. Carneiro, at which point she resigned.

Ms. Carneiro sued Chelsea and the manager, alleging that she had been constructively dismissed (i.e., forced to resign), sexually harassed, and discriminated against because of her gender. Specifically, she alleged that Chelsea subjected her to a sexist atmosphere, that the manager made sexist and derogatory comments, and that the Club subjected her to disparate treatment as a woman. Given that the incident began with a highly public confrontation during a match, involved a very popular club, and the sensationalist nature of the British press, the case received immediate attention in the media.

Chelsea depicted Ms. Carneiro as greedy and publicity hungry, accusing her of using her case as a means to fame and fortune. Chelsea maintained this “defense” up until the beginning of trial, at which point the parties reached an agreement and Chelsea issued Ms. Carneiro an apology.

As it took place in the United Kingdom, Ms. Carneiro’s case does not directly implicate any specific United States antidiscrimination laws; however, the conduct that Ms. Carneiro complained about ­– sexist comments and text messages and disparate treatment because of gender – would almost certainly violate stateside laws such as Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act or the New York City Human Rights Law.

While American statutes were not at issue, many of the concepts at issue do translate to domestic law. For example, Ms. Carneiro alleged that the club constructively terminated her. This legal concept exists in the United States as well; essentially, an employee who resigns her position can still argue that she was terminated by the employer ­– and therefore seek back pay ­– if the employer’s actions forced her to resign her position or made it impossible to continue working.

Although the U.S. and the U.K. have established anti-discrimination laws under rather different statutory schemes, both countries recognize a cause of action relating to a hostile work environment. There, as here, the employer is prohibited from harassing an employee because of their gender.

This case also illustrates the extent to which gender discrimination in the workplace remains widespread. It is not limited to certain industries or parts of the world, low earners or high earners, skilled workers or unskilled workers.

If you feel that you have been discriminated against at work because of your gender, please contact The Harman Firm, LLP.