LB Islington v Ladele was the well-publicised case of the Christian registrar. When the Civil Partnership Act 2004 came into force, she told her local authority employer that, because of her religious views on marriage, she would not participate in registering any civil partnerships.
There was a disciplinary hearing at which she was told this was contrary to the employer’s ‘Dignity for all’ policy and it could not accommodate her wish to be excused from participating in such ceremonies. She then claimed direct and indirect discrimination and harassment on the ground of her religious beliefs.
Although her claims succeeded at tribunal, the EAT has now allowed the employer’s appeal and dismissed all her claims. In particular, the EAT noted that it cannot be direct discrimination to treat all employees in the same way. As for indirect discrimination, although the employer’s requirement put someone with the employee’s religious beliefs at a particular disadvantage, an employee should not be permitted to refuse to provide their services for discriminatory reasons.
Points to note –
- This is a very helpful claim for employers now that there are so many ‘strands’ of unlawful discrimination (sex, sexual orientation, race, disability, age and religion or belief). The EAT stresses that employers are not expected to make ‘a vague attempt to balance irreconcilable positions’ where the different ‘strands’ collide. They should focus on the established statutory test of whether the means adopted by the employer are a proportionate way of achieving a legitimate aim.
- The civil rights charity Liberty, which became involved in the case, suggested to the EAT that to allow some employees the right to refuse certain duties would in itself amount to a form of segregation. The EAT disagreed and said that it should be permissible for employers to find pragmatic ways of seeking to accommodate religious beliefs (e.g. in this case to organise work so that the claimant never had to officiate at the registration of a civil partnership). However, it was clear that, although employers may be entitled to do this, there was no legal obligation on them to do so.