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Tribunal Victory for Employee in Landmark Religious Discrimination Case

An Employment Tribunal in Abergele has today unanimously found in favour of a former employee of a Christian charity who was claiming constructive dismissal and discrimination on grounds of religion or belief. The British Humanist Association (BHA), which paid the legal costs of the claimant, today welcomed the Tribunal’s decision and warned religious employers that they can no longer discriminate wholesale in their employment on grounds of religion or belief.

The Tribunal heard that Prospects, a Christian charity which receives public money for its work with people with learning disabilities, and which had previously employed a number of non-Christian staff and volunteers – including a number who were transferred to them under TUPE Regulations – acted illegally when in 2004 it began recruiting only practising Christians for almost all posts, and told existing non-Christian staff that they were no longer eligible for promotion.

Hanne Stinson, BHA Chief Executive, said, ‘We are delighted with today’s outcome in what has proved to be a landmark case in the area of discrimination on grounds of religion or belief. The Tribunal’s decision will undoubtedly have far-reaching repercussions for religious employers, as faith-based organisations will have to be much more stringent when they wish to discriminate on grounds of religion or belief in employment and attach a ‘Genuine Occupational Requirement’ to their jobs. A clear message has been sent out by this decision: that blanket discrimination in employment policies and practices on grounds of religion or belief is simply unacceptable, and that an instruction to discriminate against someone on the basis of that person’s religion or belief will be unlawful.’

Ms Stinson continued, ‘The Tribunal’s decision confirms many of the concerns about contracting out public services to religious organisations that we set out in our recently published report on the subject, including the concern that since the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 came in, which has exemptions for religious organisations allowing them to discriminate, religious organisations are actually discriminating more in their employment practices than before the law was enacted and that this can actually damage the quality of services provided. The Tribunal’s judgment makes clear that a court will make an objective assessment of what a ‘religious ethos’ is, and states that it is not for the religious organisation itself to define its ethos, where this does not accord with reality on the ground. Hopefully the Government, which is considering contracting out large parts of the welfare state to religious organisations, will reconsider its policy in light of the Tribunal’s judgment.’

Mr James Boddy, Barrister from 11KBW, representing the claimant Mr Mark Sheridan, said ‘This is an important decision because it is the first time an employment tribunal has been called on to decide the extent to which an organisation with a religious ethos is allowed to discriminate on grounds of religion or belief.’

Mr Mark Sheridan, the claimant, said, ‘I am really very pleased with this result. When I worked for Prospects I felt that what they were doing was wrong. Winning this case now, justifies my claim. I would particularly like to thank The British Humanist Association for backing me.’

Notes

The British Humanist Association (BHA) is the national charity campaigning for an end to religious privilege and discrimination based on religion and belief.

For more comment or information, contact Hanne Stinson , BHA Chief Executive on 07764 947249 or by email, or Naomi Phillips, BHA Public Affairs Officer, on 07779 703 242 or by email.

For comment, contact Mark Sheridan on 07737 761886 or by email.

Read the judgment in Mark Sheridan’s case here.

The tribunal also found in favour of a second claimant, Louise Hender, who was supported by her union. Read this judgment here.

Read the BHA’s report on the contracting out of public services to religious organisations, Quality and Equality: Human Rights, Public Services and Religious Organisations.

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