The Court of Appeal has today dismissed Ms Mba’s appeal in her religious discrimination claim against the London Borough of Merton. The employment tribunal had ruled that her employer’s Sunday working requirement was not a breach of religious discrimination legislation, now contained in the Equality Act 2010.
Although the Sunday working requirement put her at a disadvantage as a Christian, Mrs Mba lost her case because the Council had demonstrated that there was no other way the children’s home where she was working could be safely run. Given these facts it is not surprising that both the Employment Appeal Tribunal (this time last year) and now the Court of Appeal has turned down her appeal.
The case would not have got this far if the employment tribunal had not made a legal mistake in the reasoning supporting their conclusion. It remarked that her belief that it was wrong to work on Sundays “whilst deeply held, is not a core component of the Christian faith”. This appears to have been regarded as unhelpful to Mrs Mba’s claim and was the main reason why she was allowed to take her case to the Court of Appeal.
For slightly differing reasons, all three judges confirmed that this fact should not have been weighed in the balance against Mrs Mba. It could however be a factor in assessing the weight to be given employer’s aims. For example it might be more difficult for an employer to accommodate a widely held religious belief held by many members of their workforce. Paradoxically a religious belief highly personal to the claimant might be easier to work around, and so increase a claimant’s chances of success.
In this case the Court of Appeal concluded that the error would not have made any difference to the final result, so the decision of the employment tribunal stood. However it is a trap that some employers may fall into when assessing a request from an employee to adjust working conditions to accommodate their faith. The fact that the belief may not be widely shared is not a reason to treat the request less seriously.