In this case, the Claimant, Miss Mbuyi, was dismissed by her employer, Newpark Childcare because of comments she had made during a disciplinary hearing about homosexuality. Miss Mbuyi is a Christian and had said that “homosexuality is a sin”. Dismissing her for this reason was held to be direct and indirect discrimination on grounds of religion or belief, but not harassment.
The background to this case is one of conflict between equal rights, and religious belief. These frequently come in to conflict because, for instance, some opponents of Christian belief believe that homosexuality is a sin.
In this case, the Claimant worked with a lesbian employee, and had, in the past, made comments that she had “hair too short for a woman” and had commented “oh my god, are you a lesbian?” She had also explained that her understanding of the bible was that homosexuality was a sin, and this had upset her workmate.
These incidents, amongst others, had culminated in a disciplinary hearing, during which Miss Mbuyi stated “I am not a homophobic person but I believe homosexuality is a sin and god doesn’t like that”. Newpark decided that these words were enough, in themselves, to dismiss on grounds of gross misconduct.
The Claimant issued Employment Tribunal proceedings under several headings:
Direct discrimination: The Tribunal found that, although Miss Mbuyi was not dismissed because she was a Christian, she was dismissed for views related to that religion, and this was sufficient, under previous case law, to find a case of direct discrimination. In this case, referring to previous authorities, the Tribunal found that the employee should have been given a previous warning.
Indirect discrimination: This is a question of whether or not the treatment, which impacted more heavily on the Christian employee, was justified. In this case it was not justified, as, without any previous warnings, the response was not proportionate.
Harassment: The Claimant’s argument was that the question during the disciplinary hearing about her religion had been a set-up. However, evidence went against this, because she had given evidence that she appreciated the opportunity to express her beliefs, and, after all, she was an evangelical Christian.
Interestingly, the Tribunal also found that Miss Mbuyi’s comments to her colleague did not amount to harassment either, because she had not specifically targeted the colleague because of her sexual orientation.
The outcome of this case would have been entirely different had the employer given the employee warnings, and been clear about the behaviour they expected. Employers will be wise to take this into account in future.