Indirect religious discrimination

18 May 2016

Was it indirect religious discrimination to dismiss a teacher for refusing to leave her husband after his conviction for sex offences?

Yes, held the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) on the facts in Pendleton v Derbyshire County Council, upholding the Claimant’s appeal against the dismissal of a claim of indirect religious discrimination.

The Claimant was a teacher of many years unblemished service. Her husband, a Headteacher, was convicted of making indecent images of children and voyeurism. The School dismissed the Claimant for failing to end her relationship with her husband. The Claimant won an unfair dismissal claim as the School failed to show that the dismissal was for gross misconduct or SOSR.

As the dismissal was based on a ‘practice’ of dismissing someone who had chosen not to end a relationship with a convicted sex offender, the Claimant alleged indirect religious discrimination; her Christian faith meant that she regarded her marriage vows as sacrosanct. The employment tribunal rejected that claim, but the EAT overturned the decision and substituted a finding of indirect religious discrimination.

The EAT held that on the facts, it was inevitable that the Claimant would be in a group (those holding a belief in the sanctity of marriage vows) that was put at a particular disadvantage by the School’s ‘practice’ of dismissing those in her situation, and there was no justification for the dismissal. The EAT noted that on these highly unusual facts, a ‘practice’ was established, and in the crisis of conscience that faced the Claimant (and others of similar beliefs) there was a ‘particular disadvantage’ and so unlawful discrimination.

With thanks to Daniel Barnett’s employment law bulletin which provided the details of this case.