New EAT judgment on religious discrimination sheds light on distinction between religious views and the manner in which they are expressed

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In the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) judgment of Page v NHS Trust Development Authority, handed down on 19 June 2019, the EAT held that a Claimant was not subjected to religious discrimination, when the reason for his dismissal from his post as Non-Executive Director (NED) was the way in which he had expressed his beliefs, as opposed to the beliefs themselves.

The Claimant was a high-profile member of the Trust and it was known he held strong Christian beliefs. The Trust had previously expressly told the Claimant not to speak to the media without informing them first.

Without informing the Trust, the Claimant appeared on BBC Breakfast News. During this interview, he expressed the view that, due to his Christian beliefs, he did not believe that adoption by a same-sex couple could be in the best interests of a child.

Following this interview, the Claimant was dismissed. The Claimant then issued claims against the Trust for direct and indirect discrimination because of religious belief and victimisation.

The Employment Tribunal (ET) dismissed the claims. The Claimant appealed to the EAT.

The EAT held that the Tribunal had not made an error of law in finding that the Claimant was treated as he was not because of his beliefs but because of the manner in which he had expressed them. The EAT held that the reasons for the Claimant’s dismissal from his post as NED were that he had spoken to the media without informing the Trust (when he had been expressly told to ensure that he did inform them), and had done so while being aware that his conduct would likely have an adverse effect on the Trust’s ability to engage with sections of the community it served.

Both the ET and the EAT made the distinction between the Claimant’s religion and/or views and the manner in which he expressed them, the latter being the reason for his dismissal.

This case should remind employers of the need to ensure they keep a clear record of the reasons why any disciplinary action is taken against employees, to ensure that a distinction is maintained between any beliefs the employee may hold and their specific actions in expressing those beliefs which have then given rise to disciplinary action.

In a society where communicating opinions to the world is as easy as pressing a button, it is also wise for employers to consider their media policies and to require employees to make clear that any views expressed are their own and not that of the company.

For more information on this please contact Ellen Parker and Rachel Barnet from the Employment Team.

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