By Daniel Hunter

A leading employment legal expert believes that the ongoing and high profile racism case involving John Terry highlights how football can often operate very differently from the rest of society when it comes to dealing with issues of race discrimination in the workplace.

Speaking on the same day as John Terry starts his FA hearing at Wembley over his part in an incident last October involving Anton Ferdinand, Tom Flanagan, Partner and Head of Employment at national law firm Irwin Mitchell, says the way in which some football clubs deal with this type of situation contrasts sharply with what most organisations would do when dealing with an employee accused of a similar act.

”Football sometimes appears to cocoon itself from the 'real world'. This is a case of a senior employee allegedly racially abusing an employee of another business at that employee’s place of work in a high profile and public setting," he said.

“He appears to accept that he made the remarks and is putting up a technical defence to the specific criminal charge which he is entitled to do. Whilst the FA's rules and regulations can complicate the situation, the club, as the employer, should still conduct its own investigation and reach its own conclusions about its employee’s conduct as an employee, regardless of the outcome of the criminal trial.

“It would not be unusual for an employee in John Terry’s position to be suspended pending the outcome of the investigation. He could also be, disciplined and even dismissed, perhaps for bringing his employer into disrepute, whether or not he was guilty of the criminal charge and even if that case has not yet been heard.

“The point being made that John Terry has been tried and acquitted already is misconceived. The criminal charge was that he created a public disorder which was racially aggravated. He was found not guilty of that particular charge. That was not a finding that he did not racially abuse Ferdinand nor was it even a finding that he did not make racist remarks. In fact he admitted making them and produced a sufficient defence to avoid being convicted of that narrow charge.

“He is a high profile figure in his club, the England set up and football as a whole and this is a high profile issue in a sport publicly committed to the “Respect” campaign to eliminate racism from football. Even given the finding of the criminal court, it is still possible that John Terry could face sanctions at club and trade / professional association (FA) level, in the same way as any other employee in his situation, in the rest of society.”

Drawing a comparison with other high profile professions, Tom added: “If one wanted to look for a parallel, it could be found in a high value senior employee where the employer is reluctant to investigate or discipline because of the perceived cost to the business of removing that employee. If an employer, such as an investment bank, acted in that way, it is likely to attract both public and legal criticism. Why should football be any different?”

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