Two cases show the difficulty of balancing the rights of different minority groups who are protected by discrimination legislation, in these examples, Christians and gay people.
In Ladele v London Borough of Islington, an employment tribunal has upheld the religious discrimination claim of a Christian registrar who was told to perform same-sex civil partnership unions or face dismissal.
The council refused Miss Ladele's request to be excused from performing same-sex unions and threatened her with dismissal. The tribunal heard that the claimant had been subjected to various other forms of direct religious discrimination and had been branded "homophobic". It concluded that the council had failed to take her religious concerns seriously and had instead committed a "violation of Miss Ladele's dignity and created an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and offensive environment".
In the cases of Sheridan and Hender v Prospects for People with Learning Disabilities, it was held that a Christian charity could not justify a "Christians-only" employment policy by relying on the "genuine occupational requirement"' (GOR) exemption in the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003. The tribunal accepted that the charity had a religious ethos but, as the overwhelming amount of support given by the charity was secular in nature (especially at the level at which Sheridan and Hender were employed), and due to a lack of credible evidence, it held that there was no valid GOR defence.
Impact on employers
The Ladele case test has been heralded by some as representing a victory for religious freedom over the rights of homosexuals. For example, it could be cited by doctors who refuse to carry out abortions or by supermarket workers who refuse to work with alcohol or certain types of meat for reasons of faith. However, we suggest that what it shows is that if an employer acts in such a way as to disturb the delicate balance between conflicting minorities, for example, by not looking at ways of accommodating them, by disciplining one or threatening one with dismissal, the employer will be guilty of discrimination, regardless of whether it is gay employees or employees of religious faith who have been the victims – in balancing the competing interests involved in the case, the tribunal took into account the council's admission that it could still run "a first class service" despite the claimant's refusal to conduct same-sex unions. Moreover, the decision is not binding on other tribunals and might yet be appealed.
The Sheridan and Hender cases show that the fact that an employer has a religious ethos will not necessarily allow it rely on the "religious organisations ethos" GOR. These cases suggest that the employer must instead consider the requirements of each post individually to determine whether possession of a particular religious belief is a GOR.