Ladele v London Borough of Islington – Employment Tribunal

In an interesting case, Miss Ladele, a Registrar working for the London Borough of Islington, brought successful claims of direct discrimination, indirect discrimination and harassment against her employer, on the grounds of religion and belief.

Background and facts

Since the commencement of the Civil Partnership Act 2004, all Registrars could be required by their employer to carry out civil partnership ceremonies. Miss Ladele held orthodox Christian views and "could not reconcile her faith with taking an active part in enabling same sex unions to be formed." She believed this to be contrary to God's instructions. She asked to be excused from directly participating in ceremonies associated with same-sex unions.

Miss Ladele's manager informed her that her refusal to carry out civil ceremonies was a breach of the Council's Dignity for All policy, and that her actions were discriminatory. As a temporary measure however, it was agreed that she would not participate in the civil partnership rota. This caused tension amongst other members of staff, particularly her lesbian and gay colleagues.

A written complaint was made by co-workers stipulating that Miss Ladele was "discriminating against the gay community [by refusing] to do civil partnerships" and was in breach of their "Dignity for All" policy. Their complaint received a swift response from the Council. In an act which the Tribunal found to be a breach of confidence, the Council informed these workers within its reply that disciplinary action would be taken against her.

On the other hand, Miss Ladele raised numerous complaints to the Council, including in respect of her concerns that she had been bullied and harassed at work, that her dignity was not being respected, that she was not being supported by management and that her religious belief was a cause for discrimination against her. Her complaints were not investigated or adequately dealt with by the Council.

Disciplinary proceedings were commenced against Miss Ladele which resulted in a finding that she was guilty of gross misconduct. The Council offered a solution to her, such that she would not be required to conduct civil ceremonies, but would be required to undertake straightforward signings of the Register and administrative work in relation to civil partnerships. It was made clear to Miss Ladele that a possible consequence of not accepting this offer would be the termination of her employment. She commenced Tribunal proceedings against the Council.

Decision

Miss Ladele's claim succeeded on all grounds. In respect of her direct discrimination complaint, the Tribunal found that, amongst other matters, the Council's actions in submitting her to a disciplinary process, failing to deal with her complaints (whilst swiftly dealing with those raised by others) and failing to take disciplinary action against her gay and lesbian colleagues (on account of their behaviour towards her), amounted to less favourable treatment on grounds of religion or belief. Her harassment complaint was also upheld on similar grounds.

Further, the Tribunal found that the Council's requirement that all Registrars carry out civil partnerships amounted to a "provision, criterion or practice" that could not be justified as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. Therefore this amounted to indirect discrimination.

Comment

This case highlights the difficulty that employers face when dealing with conflicting rights provided by the law, in this instance those arising under the law prohibiting discrimination on grounds of religion or belief and sexual orientation, respectively. The Tribunal pointed out however that it is not correct that one set of rights should "trump" the other. Rather, both deserve equal attention.

Employers should therefore carry out a careful 'balancing act' when dealing with workplace issues where this problem could arise, and ensure that the rights of all parties concerned receive fair and equal consideration, before action is taken.