Yes, held the employment tribunal (“ET”) in Mbuyi v Newpark Childcare (Shepherds Bush) Ltd. The ET ruled that a Christian nursery employee was discriminated against by her employer on the grounds of her religion or belief when it dismissed her for expressing negative views about a colleague’s homosexuality.
Religion or belief and sexual orientation are protected characteristics under section 4 of the Equality Act 2010 (“EqA”). There is, therefore, scope for conflict between these protected characteristics, since some religious groups have strong views on homosexuality. Employers may face the difficult task of trying to balance its employees’ competing rights. In extreme cases, employers may need to consider to what extent they (and their employees) should tolerate negative views of homosexuality in order to allow religious freedom of expression.
Miss Mbuyi is an evangelical Christian who was employed by Newpark Childcare (Shepherds Bush) Ltd (“the Nursery”) until she was summarily dismissed following a conversation with a lesbian colleague (“C”). C instigated a conversation with Miss Mbuyi and specifically asked what Miss Mbuyi believed God thought about C’s living arrangements with her civil partner. Miss Mbyui proceeded to explain her understanding of biblical teaching on homosexuality, including a reference to homosexuality being a sin.
Although C was upset by such comments, she did not lodge a formal complaint. Nevertheless, the Nursery took disciplinary action against Miss Mbuyi and summarily dismissed her within three days of the conversation, without conducting a thorough investigation and essentially relying only upon C’s version of events.
Miss Mbuyi brought a claim in the ET on the basis that her dismissal was an act of discrimination on the grounds of her religion or belief. (She did not have the requisite length of qualifying service to bring an unfair dismissal claim.)
The ET held that Miss Mbuyi had indeed been discriminated against. The issues in the case arose from Miss Mbuyi’s belief that homosexuality was a sin, which is a belief that has effectively already been accepted by the higher courts as capable of attracting protection under the EqA.
Perhaps more importantly in this case, the ET noted that there were numerous procedural failings in the disciplinary process which made the decision to dismiss unfair, which included Miss Mbuyi not being given the details of the allegations against her in advance of the disciplinary hearing. Further, she was not informed in advance of the hearing that dismissal was a potential outcome and no subsequent investigation was carried out.
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 an ET decision. It is important for an employer to weigh up its employees’ competing protected characteristics as defined under the EqA, but the numerous procedural failings in the disciplinary procedure are the most notable aspect of this case and serve as an essential reminder for employers to follow due process when taking disciplinary action against an employee.