Dismissed for not breaking up with paedophile husband: discrimination?
In this case, a teacher who was a practicing Christian was dismissed by her school because she had refused to separate from her husband, a neighbouring head teacher and recently convicted paedophile.
She objected to the requirement because she had committed to act according to her marriage vows, and remain with her husband “for better or for worse”.
The Tribunal and Appeal Tribunal had to consider whether or not this amounted to indirect religious discrimination.
The Claimant in this case, Mrs Pendleton, was married to a headmaster of another local junior school, who had been given a 10 month prison sentence for various paedophile offences, including offences relating to the children in his own school.
Mrs Pendleton’s school, according to the governors, had received a number of complaints from parents. The governing body applied a disciplinary process on the ground that they had lost confidence in her ability to carry out safeguarding responsibilities so long as she stayed with her husband. She did stay with her husband, because of her Christian marriage vows, and was subsequently dismissed.
An employee is indirectly discriminated against if an unjustified practice or policy is applied against them which would put people sharing their protected characteristic (in this case other Christians) at a particular disadvantage
The Employment Tribunal and the Appeal Tribunal disagreed as to whether or not the policy that led to Mrs Pendleton’s dismissal had had a “particular disadvantage” on her as a practicing Christian.
The Tribunal came to the conclusion that it hadn’t, because the policy would have applied to everybody, irrespective of their religion or lack of a religion.
The EAT disagreed, saying that the Tribunal had drawn the wrong comparison. The correct comparison would be between individuals in loving long-term relationships who were not Christian, and those in such relationships who were Christian. It appeared obvious to the EAT that in this situation those believing in the sacrosanct nature of Christian marriage vows faced a particular disadvantage over those in long-term loving relationships who did not have this belief.
The EAT therefore concluded that Mrs Pendleton had been discriminated against, indirectly, on grounds of her Christian beliefs, and, further, as the school had provided no evidence of justification, that this was unjustified and therefore unlawful.
This case is an important illustration of the different ways in which the comparison between affected and unaffected groups can be drawn in indirect discrimination cases. A cynical view might be that the comparison can be drawn in any particular case in a number of ways, to suit the desired outcome or so called “justice” of the case in question.