Gareddu v London Underground Ltd UKEAT/0086/16/DM
The EAT has confirmed that an employee was not indirectly discriminated against on the basis of his religion when he was prevented from taking 5 weeks' holiday, which he claimed was for the purpose of attending religious festivals.
The Claimant had been allowed to take extended leave every August since 2009 to attend Catholic festivals in Sardinia. In 2013 his request for a five-week holiday was refused, with his employer stipulating 15 days as the maximum time off that could be taken in one block. The Claimant brought a claim in the ET on the grounds of religious discrimination.
The ET dismissed the claim, finding that the Claimant's asserted religious belief was not made in good faith. In 2013, the Claimant had only attended nine of the 17 festivals that he had claimed he needed to attend each year; his attendance at any particular festival was also entirely dependent on his family. The Tribunal did accept that attending religious festivals could in principle constitute a manifestation of religious belief, but found that this was not the case in relation to the period required by the Claimant.
In upholding the ET's findings, the EAT concluded that, even though the Claimant had been motivated at least in part by his religious beliefs, the ET had been entitled to reach the decision it had based on the evidence available. It did not question the veracity of his religious belief in and of itself; rather they doubted that he needed to attend the religious festivals as part of his faith. The Claimant contended that the festivals were of deep religious significance to him, but the EAT agreed with the first instance decision that although his presence at the festivals was a manifestation of his Catholicism, his attendance was not solely due to his religious belief, as it was also motivated by his family and friends' wishes.
This decision will be welcomed by employers who need to balance the interests of the organisation with the rights of employees to practise their religion. It demonstrates that Tribunals are willing to scrutinise the veracity of religious manifestation claims, even against the backdrop of established expectation on the employee's part. Employers should note that even if the Claimant's belief had been genuine in this case, his employer may still have been able to justify its refusal to grant extended holiday by showing that it was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.