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Teacher wins tribunal case after being unfairly dismissed by faith school in religious discrimination dispute

Zelda de Groen was fired for living with her boyfriend (image: instagram)

A teacher has won her tribunal against the religious nursery she was employed at, after it was deemed that her dismissal amounted both to harassment and to direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief and sex. Humanists UK, which campaigns against religious schools discriminating against teachers, has welcomed the tribunal’s decision.

The 24-year-old teacher, Zelda de Groen, was accused of ‘living in sin’ by her bosses at the Charedi Jewish nursery in North London, after parents raised concerns she was cohabiting with her boyfriend outside of wedlock. Initially de Groen was advised by a senior leader of the nursery to lie to prying parents about her living situation, and was also told that having children outside of marriage would ‘not be tolerated’ by the school. A few days later, after attempting to seek an apology for her mistreatment, she was abruptly disciplined and, shortly after, dismissed from her position for bringing the nursery into disrepute.

Stating that de Groen had been subjected to ‘undoubtedly humiliating, degrading and offensive’ treatment, the tribunal panel ruled that,

‘(de Groen) was being probed about her private life in ways which suggested she was behaving badly and foolishly. It is repugnant to generally accepted standards of morality to require someone to lie, especially about matters so concerned with their protected human rights.’

The tribunal also concluded that a male teacher would not have been subjected to the same ordeal as de Groen.

Humanists UK has long campaigned against the discrimination suffered by teachers at the hands of faith schools, many of which wrongly see such discrimination as lawful. In 2013 the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales and the Catholic Education Service co-published a booklet stating that anyone considered to be in a ‘non-chaste’ relationship may be subject to investigation and dismissal. And in 2007 the Archdiocese of Liverpool was reported to have sought legal advice to determine whether or not it could sack a gay headteacher who had entered into a civil partnership.

Humanists UK Education Campaigns Manager Jay Harman commented, ‘We welcome Ms de Groen’s successful tribunal result, and are sorry that she was subjected to this treatment in the first place. Sadly, we are concerned that other similar cases are going unreported, and that teachers are being forced out of work on similar grounds right around the country.

‘Schools should not need to be told that discriminating against well-meaning teachers on the basis of their religion or what they do in their private life is unacceptable, but unfortunately it seems that some do. The Government must move to clarify the law immediately so that no more teachers are treated in this way.’

Notes

For further comment or information please contact Humanists UK Education Campaigner Jay Harman on jay@humanism.org.uk.

Read the tribunal’s full decision: https://www.gov.uk/employment-tribunal-decisions/ms-z-de-groen-v-gan-menachem-hendon-ltd-3347281-2016

Read more about Humanists UK’s work on faith schools: https://humanism.org.uk/campaigns/schools-and-education/faith-schools/

At Humanists UK, we advance free thinking and promote humanism to create a tolerant society where rational thinking and kindness prevail. Our work brings non-religious people together to develop their own views, helping people be happier and more fulfilled in the one life we have. Through our ceremonies, education services, and community and campaigning work, we strive to create a fair and equal society for all.

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