Background

The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 prohibit direct discrimination, indirect discrimination and discrimination by way of victimisation or harassment in the workplace by reason of any religion, religious belief, or philosophical belief. The Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003 prohibit direct discrimination, indirect discrimination and discrimination by way of victimisation or harassment in the workplace by reason of sexual orientation.

Facts

Ms Ladele is a Christian who believes that same-sex marriages are “contrary to God’s law”. She has been a Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages for the London Borough of Islington since 2002. In 2005, Islington designated all of its Registrars as “civil partnership arrangement Registrars”.

Ms Ladele informed Islington that she was opposing participating in civil partnerships on account of her religious beliefs. Islington proposed that Ms Ladele would not be asked to officiate civil partnership ceremonies but would be required to perform all other duties relating to civil partnerships, and that Ms Ladele’s refusal to comply would conflict with Islington’s equality and diversity policy. She avoided carrying out any civil partnership duties by swapping cover with other members of staff, which caused tension in the workplace and led to a series of complaints by fellow employees.

No formal disciplinary action was initiated until May 2007. At the conclusion of the process, Ms Ladele was found guilty of gross misconduct. Islington repeated its initial offer of allowing her to not conduct the ceremonies but to carry out other work in relation to civil partnerships. She was informed that a consequence of her not accepting this offer would be that her employment would be terminated.

Ms Ladele issued proceedings at the employment tribunal claiming she had suffered direct discrimination, indirect discrimination and harassment on the grounds of her religion or belief. The tribunal found in her favour.

Islington appealed to the EAT. They found that as all employees had been treated the same, there could be no direct discrimination. They stressed the difference between Ms Ladele’s conduct and her belief. The disciplinary action against her was not because she held particular religious views, but because she was not carrying out her duties. They also noted that had Ms Ladele complied with the alternative option offered to her, she would not have been the subject of any disciplinary procedure. It was also found that there had been no harassment.

In relation to indirect discrimination, Islington argued that requiring staff to act in a non-discriminatory way was a proportionate means of achieving the legitimate aim of providing effective services relating to civil partnerships and promoting equal opportunities.

Effect on employers

This case has clarified how an employer should handle a situation in the workplace where there is a conflict between religious belief and sexual orientation. If a belief leads the holder to participate in discriminatory behaviour, it is unlikely that they will be protected by the law.

London Borough of Islington v Ladele UKEAT/0453/08.