The football club, the doctor & a lot of dirty laundry

Chelsea Football Club’s (now former) first-team doctor, Eva Carneiro, first hit the headlines last summer after being publically criticised by Jose Mourinho and removed from first team duties following her decision to treat a player during stoppage time at the end of Chelsea’s match against Swansea. Dr Carneiro subsequently left the Club, claiming constructive unfair dismissal and sex discrimination.

The case is an interesting one, not so much in regard to the legal issues raised by the claim, but more in relation to the huge amount of publicity the claim received, and the level and nature of the settlement that was dramatically reached on the second day of the hearing, before evidence had even been heard.

On the first day of the hearing, each side had submitted opening statements summarising their positions. They made uncomfortable reading. Dr Carneiro claimed that she was the victim of discrimination (citing not only the incident in the Swansea match during which she alleged Jose Mourinho had called her a “filha da puta” or “daughter of a whore”, but other things such as a lack of changing facilities, failure by Chelsea to deal with sexually explicit chanting at away games and sexually explicit comments from colleagues). Chelsea on the other hand, denied any wrongdoing and painted a picture of someone who was publicity hungry, greedy, and lacking commitment to develop the skills needed to become the Club’s medical director.

The allegations Dr Carneiro made were scandalous, but presumably in its defence, Chelsea would have made much of the fact that Jon Fearn, the physio who rushed onto the pitch with her, was also demoted from the first team bench, which would make any discrimination claim harder to prove. He stayed with the Club and moved back to first team duties.

The level of settlement is confidential, but Chelsea made it known that Dr Carneiro had previously turned down an offer of £1.2 million. Interestingly the Club also issued a public statement upon the settlement being agreed, apologising “unreservedly” to Dr Carneiro and her family following the settlement and thanking her for the “excellent and dedicated support she provided as first-team doctor”. The statement had all the usual hallmarks of being a negotiated one and was in stark contrast to the picture Chelsea had painted of Dr Carneiro in its opening statement. Dr Carneiro made no secret of the fact during a mediation in March 2016 that she wanted a public apology as part of any settlement. However, she did not get the personal apology from Jose Mourinho that she had previously said she wanted.

Given the nature of Dr Carneiro’s departure from the Club, and the fact that it was so well publicised, it’s perhaps not surprising that settlement was at such a high level. Dr Carneiro reportedly had a salary of £280,000 a year. Achieving employment at a similar level in the future (and particularly in the sports industry) may be unlikely, given that employers might feel her name is permanently tarred, despite the apology from Chelsea.

Despite the parties having reached a confidential settlement, Dr Carneiro’s case and the media frenzy surrounding it acts as a stark reminder of the potentially catastrophic consequences of sex discrimination in the workplace. Could anything have been done to avoid this? Given Jose Mourinho’s well-publicised temperament, perhaps not. But it’s certainly been an expensive and ugly battle.