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15 Jun 2015

Employment

Dismissal of Christian employee for expressing views on homosexuality was discriminatory

In Mbuyi v Newpark Childcare (Shepherds Bush) Ltd an employment tribunal has held that a Christian nursery assistant, dismissed following a conversation with a lesbian colleague where she expressed her belief that God does not approve of homosexuality, was subjected to direct discrimination because of her beliefs.

The Background

On 6th January 2014, Mbuyi and her lesbian colleague, LP, discussed what they had done over the Christmas break, with Mbuyi making reference to her church. LP indicated that she would not be interested in attending church until it would recognise her relationship such that she could get married there. Mbuyi responded that ‘God is not okay with what you do’ but  ‘we are all sinners’. Mbuyi then attended a disciplinary hearing where she explained that it was LP that had first raised Mbuyi’s church, first raised her own sexuality, asked if she would be welcome at church and asked what Mbuyi believed that God thought about her. Mbuyi answered in accordance with her Christian beliefs: “I can only tell the biblical truth.”

The Employment Tribunal Decision

The tribunal dismissed NC Ltd’s claim of harassment, observing that Mbuyi had regarded the questioning during the disciplinary hearing as a good thing. It followed the conduct was not unwanted, nor did it violate Mbuyi’s dignity. In respect of direct discrimination, the tribunal observed that none of Mbuyi’s treatment was because she was a Christian, but instead because of her belief that homosexuality is a sin. In addition, there may have been stereotypical assumptions about Mbuyi and her beliefs. The tribunal upheld the claim of indirect discrimination. It was conceded by NC Ltd that they had held that employees should not express any adverse views of homosexuality or state that homosexuality is a sin. But this “ban” on discussing such matters had not been made clear to Mbuyi in advance.

What does this mean?

Although it has been suggested in the Press that this decision is a significant victory for Christian workers, it should be borne in mind that the decision is very fact-specific and does not set any binding precedent, being only a tribunal decision.

For further information please contact Daniel Wilde, Head of our Employment Department, on 01633 244233 or email wilded@hevans.com

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