Footballer Quitongo loses race discrimination claim against former club

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Footballer Rico Quitongo has described the loss of his racial discrimination claim against his former club as a “devastating blow”.

The 23-year-old has taken Airdriedonians FC and one of its managers, Paul Hetherington, to an employment tribunal over allegations of racial discrimination.

He claimed he was racially assaulted by a fan at a game last year, and although the club investigated the matter, it was later dropped due to “insufficient evidence”.

An Employment Tribunal hearing in Glasgow looked into the way the case was handled, with Quitongo claiming to have suffered racial harassment and victimisation.

However, in his ruling released this week, court judge David Hoey said the allegations were “ill-founded” and ruled against Quitongo.

Commenting after the decision, Quitongo said: “This judgment is a blow to all those who have stood up to racism in our national sport.

“This whole episode was an incredibly harrowing, traumatic and heartbreaking experience for my family and friends, as well as myself.

“I have been inundated with an outpouring of support from football fans and players during this long and arduous legal process. I am extremely grateful for this solidarity.

In his witness statement at the June hearing, Quitongo said he was told on the evening of Saturday September 11 last year that someone heard an Airdrie fan racially abuse him at the game That day.

He said he felt “upset and disgusted” after listening to a voicemail telling him about the racist slur, and the next day he reported the incident to the club.

The labor judge said the club and Mr Hetherington – called the respondents – could not be held liable for the alleged abuse, as said by a supporter and not an employee or person whose either respondents was, in law, liable.

The ruling said: ‘The allegation was that a bystander directed racial slurs at the claimant. This is not an act for which the defendant could be held liable under the Equality Act. »

Another matter considered was a meeting with club officials on October 12, 2021 when Quitongo – the claimant – alleged he was under threat of being dropped from the playing squad “because of the color of his skin”.

Officials said the meeting centered on a statement to the media and Quitongo’s wish that it be removed.

The court “did not find that the plaintiff said that if he should be fired it would be because of the color of his skin”.

He considered on a balance of probabilities that it had not been said and the focus was on the statement and claimant’s annoyance that it had been made.

Last October, Quitongo was told he was being put on a two-week leave to help clear his head, and he alleged he had not been selected for five games between September 18 and November. November 6 due to the current situation.

He left Airdrie in January this year to join Peterhead FC, and he now plays for Queen of the South.

In his conclusion, Mr Hoey said: “The court considered each of the claims and decided that they were without merit. There was therefore no need to consider an apportionment of liability or a remedy.

Quitongo had the backing of the Equality and Human Rights Commission and Scottish union Professional Footballers’ Association (PFA).

He said he would now take the time to review the lengthy judgment in detail.

EHRC President Kishwer Falkner said: “There is no place for racism in sport or any other part of society.

“The EHRC supported this case through our legal assistance program, which aims to improve outcomes for victims of racial discrimination and harassment.

“We hope this is an opportunity for football clubs across Britain to better understand their duty to protect their employees and to deal with allegations in accordance with the law.”

Fraser Wishart, chief executive of PFA Scotland, said: “The court’s decision in the Rico Quitongo case is bitterly disappointing for the player, his family and friends, and for all those who have stood up to racism in Scottish football. .

“With a litany of racist incidents in Scottish football in recent years, there is a real danger that we will return to the bad old days, and any move in that direction must be stopped dead in its tracks.”

Margaret Gribbon, a lawyer at Bridge Employment Solicitors representing Quitongo, said they were carefully reviewing the 130-page judgment from the employment tribunal.

She said: “Rico is strongly committed to pursuing this legal action to ensure that no other footballer experiences what he went through.”

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