The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) held that disciplinary action against an employee for improperly promoting Christianity to a junior colleague was not unlawful religious discrimination.

Facts

A junior worker of Muslim faith complained that Ms Wasteney, a Christian more senior worker was giving her unwanted attention in a way that the junior colleague complained was ‘grooming’. The Trust had investigated the complaints and had found Ms Wasteney guilty of serious misconduct by blurring professional boundaries and subjecting a junior colleague to improper pressure and unwanted conduct. This included the claimant’s praying with the junior worker and the laying on of hands, giving a book to that worker, which concerned the conversion to Christianity of a Muslim woman, and inviting her to various services and events at the claimant’s church. She was given a formal warning. Ms Wasteney claimed unlawful religious discrimination and harassment.

Decision

The tribunal rejected her claim and the EAT agreed.

The EAT pointed out there was a distinction between being disciplined for manifesting a religious belief - which would be unlawful discrimination - and disciplining for promoting one’s religious belief to a subordinate in an unwanted fashion.

Comment

Article 9.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) protects the right to hold a particular belief as well as manifest it. However this is qualified by article 9.2 (the rights and freedoms of others). This led both the Tribunal and the EAT to hold that Ms Westenay was not given ‘a complete and unfettered right to discuss or act on her religious beliefs at work irrespective of the views of others or of her employer’. The key issue here was not that she was discriminated against for practising her religion, it was the fact that she was practising it in a manner that was taking advantage of a subordinate by promoting her beliefs in a way that was non-consensual. It was very relevant that during the disciplinary hearing, the claimant had accepted that whatever her motives had been, her conduct had been inappropriate.