Ladele v London Borough of Islington 2009 EWCA Civ 1357

Ms Ladele claimed discrimination on the grounds of her religion and belief because she did not wish to carry out (same sex) civil partnership ceremonies in her role as registrar of births, deaths and marriages. She resigned in September 2009 rather than waiting to be terminated. The Court of Appeal held that she did not suffer religious discrimination when she was threatened with dismissal for refusing to carry out civil partnership services. Her employer was a public authority which was committed to the promotion of equal opportunities and required all its employees to act in a way which did not discriminate against others. Her proper and genuine desire to have her religious views respected did not override the council’s concern to ensure that all its registrars had equal respect for the community as a whole. Having been designated a civil partnership registrar it was unlawful for her to refuse to perform the civil partnership duties.

McFarlane v Relate Avon Ltd 2009 AER 233

Mr McFarlane was a Christian and was employed by Relate which provided relationship counselling services. He was a volunteer counsellor and then became a paid employee. He raised the possibility of his being exempted from any obligation to work with same sex couples where sexual issues were involved. He believed the bible teaching which stated that same sex sexual activity was sinful. His employer confirmed that such a stance would be in conflict with its equal opportunity policy which he had agreed to adhere to and that therefore he should be disciplined. At an investigatory meeting he agreed that he would undertake counselling work but if problems arose he would refer them to his supervisor. He was subsequently summarily dismissed as he continued to maintain the position that he should be excepted from certain counselling.

Mr McFarlane brought a claim for unfair and wrongful dismissal and religious discrimination. He lost his case on discrimination and his appeal. The court held that the tribunal had not erred in dismissing his claim because it was justifiable for the employer to require its employees to adhere to the same principles which it regarded as fundamental to its own ethos and pledges to the public.  

Key point: Employers are entitled to require employees to comply with their internal policies even where those policies require the employee to act in a way which conflicts with their own personal beliefs.

Eweida v British Airways Plc 2010 EWCA Civ 80

The Court of Appeal upheld the appeal tribunal’s ruling that Ms Eweida, a Christian employee, did not suffer indirect discrimination on the grounds of her religion or belief where BA, in line with its uniform policy insisted that a cross on her necklace be concealed. Her claim for indirect discrimination failed as no one but her felt disadvantaged by the policy but even if her argument had succeeded any disadvantage suffered by her alone could be justified as a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Ms Eweida was a member of the check-in staff and wore a silver cross as an expression of her faith. BA’s uniform policy at the time prohibited the wearing of any visible item of adornment round the neck. She wore the cross visibly and rejected BA’s offer of an alternative role in which she would not be required to wear a uniform and hence would be allowed to display the cross.  

Before the Court of Appeal Ms Eweida further argued that she had the right to manifest her religious belief under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights which provided for freedom of thought, conscience and religion. The Court held that Article 9 did not protect every act motivated or inspired by a religion or belief. Ms Eweida intends to appeal the case to the Supreme Court.

Key point: These decisions may be helpful to employers faced with the challenges on grounds of religion or belief. A distinction can be drawn between items that are a mandatory requirement of the faith and those which are desired only.