The High Court holds that a demotion for posting views about gay marriage on Facebook is a repudiatory breach of contract amounting to a dismissal in Smith v Trafford Housing Trust  EWCH 3221 (Ch) ..... but awards £98 in damages.
Mr Smith is a practicing Christian and posted comments on Facebook expressing his personal views against gay marriage. He was found guilty of gross misconduct and demoted with a 40% salary reduction. Mr Smith continued to work for the Trust although under protest. He did not bring an unfair dismissal claim but sought damages for breach of contract. The High Court held in favour of Mr Smith on the basis that no reasonable reader would consider his comments to have been made on the Trust's behalf. The Trust's code of conduct and equal opportunities policies had therefore not been breached. The High Court decided that Mr Smith had not affirmed the breach by continuing to work for the Trust. In fact, Mr Smith's original contract had ended by agreement to work in a different capacity for a greatly reduced salary. The terms of employment which had been imposed were so substantially different to his previous terms that the demotion amounted to a wrongful dismissal. However, the finding of wrongful dismissal meant that Mr Smith was only entitled to damages of £98, an amount equal to the difference between his salary under his old contract during his contractual notice period and the salary earned by him in his new demoted position during that period.
This case is likely to be of general interest as it is one of relatively few litigated social media cases. Employers should take great care before dismissing employees based on social media posts. In this case the damages were minimal, but had Mr Smith claimed unfair dismissal the compensation would almost certainly have been substantially higher.