Just before Christmas, the Court of Appeal upheld the EAT's decision in London Borough of Islington v Ladele that it was not religious discrimination for a local authority employer to discipline a registrar who refused on religious grounds to marry same-sex partners.

The EAT has also re-affirmed this point in the case of McFarlane v Relate Avon where, on similar grounds, the employee was unable to give his unequivocal commitment to counselling same-sex couples.

The EAT held that there could not be a case for indirect discrimination where, as here, the employer was publicly committed to providing counselling service to all sections of the community. To discipline the claimant for his behaviour was a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. Furthermore, when he was subsequently dismissed for refusing to change his stance, his dismissal was fair on the ground of misconduct.

Point to note –

  • The claimant in this case tried to argue that it was wrong to differentiate between his religious belief and his conduct which led to his dismissal. In pregnancy discrimination cases, dismissal on the grounds of a pregnancy related unavailability for work may be regarded as direct sex discrimination. The EAT said that this line of reasoning – which was very specific to the case of pregnancy – could not be extended to other situations. Each case would depend on its facts but substantially similar circumstances – such as this case and the case of Ladele – should be treated in the same way. This gives clear guidance on what we can expect from employment tribunals in future. It also assists service-providing employers who have, and apply, formal policies on equal access. We are happy to provide further advice if required.