Former Airdrieonians player Rico Quitongo is taking action against the club, claiming he suffered harassment and victimisation after reporting alleged racial abuse.
Quitongo is raising a claim through an employment tribunal, alleging wrongdoing by the club and one of its directors.
The 22-year-old, who now plays for Peterhead, has the backing of players’ union PFA Scotland, and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, who are jointly funding the action.
Quitongo had complained of racial abuse from an Airdrie supporter during his side’s game against Queen’s Park in September last year and his then employers opened an investigation into the incident. The club then ended their inquiry the following month, saying there was insufficient evidence to back the claim.
The footballer now says he was mistreated by the club and a particular individual at the time and is raising the action to prevent others from suffering similar treatment.
Lynn Welsh, head of legal and compliance at the equality and human rights commission in Scotland, said: “There is no place for racism in football, or any other part of our society.
“As the equality regulator for Great Britain, the EHRC are pleased to support this case through our race discrimination fund.
“Every employer should understand their responsibilities, and what the consequences are for not following the law.
“As both employers, and as part of their wider community, football clubs have an important role to play in tackling discrimination.”
Margaret Gribbon, solicitor at Bridge Employment Solicitors representing Rico Quitongo, said: “Rico is strongly committed to pursuing this legal claim in an effort to ensure that no other footballer experiences what he has.
“He hopes to effect much needed change, by exposing the gap between anti-racism rhetoric and the realities faced daily by footballers subjected to racist abuse and discrimination.
“He is extremely grateful to PFA Scotland and the Equality and Human Rights Commission for their support.”
Airdrie refute the claims, with a club statement reading: “Airdrieonians Football Club abhors all forms of discrimination and take a zero tolerance approach to racism.
“Airdrieonians conducted its own investigation and found that there was insufficient evidence to sustain the complaint made from a supporter.
“Airdrieonians also reported all matters to Police Scotland who, Airdrieonians understand, investigated and no criminal prosecution resulted.
“Claims have been made to the Employment Tribunal by Mr Quitongo. Those claims are denied in the entirety. No further comment will be made out of respect for those ongoing legal proceedings.”
Following the announcement of Quitongo’s claim, the Scottish FA said it was opening its own investigation into the issue. The governing body can take its own disciplinary action against the club and any office bearers if it finds that rules were broken.
A statement read: “The Scottish FA has initiated an investigation into race discrimination claims made by Rico Quitongo against his former club, Airdrieonians FC.
“We are aware that an employment tribunal claim has been raised by the player, supported by PFA Scotland and the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and await the outcome of that tribunal.
“The Scottish FA condemns all forms of racist and discriminatory behaviour. Indeed, our Equality Vision states that ‘everybody should have the opportunity to participate in football at all levels, and that no individual should be discriminated against’.
““That starts with their duty to protect their employees, including the players on the pitch who are too often still subject to racist abuse.”
A date for the tribunal has yet to be set.