Chondol v Liverpool City Council – Employment Appeal Tribunal

The Case

Mr Chondol was employed as a social worker by Liverpool City Council within its Community Mental Health Team. His work involved dealing with vulnerable adults who suffered from mental illness.

Following a number of incidents, his managers became concerned that Mr Chondol "did not recognise the need for professional boundaries" and commenced disciplinary proceedings against him.

Amongst other matters, it was discovered that Mr Chondol had given a bible to a service user; handed out his personal telephone number; asked another if he believed in God; and visited a service user at home, outside of working hours, to accompany him to church.

Mr Chondols' actions were found to be inappropriate and in contravention of a number of the Council's policies. He was summarily dismissed for gross misconduct on 24 May 2007.

Mr Chondol commenced proceedings in the Employment Tribunal, claiming that his dismissal was unfair and constituted direct discrimination on grounds of religion or belief.

The Tribunal's Decision

The Tribunal rejected Mr Chondol's claims. They accepted that he was dismissed fairly in accordance with the Council's belief he had been inappropriately promoting Christianity to service users. They found that it was not on the ground of his religion that he was dismissed, but rather "on the ground that he was improperly foisting it on service users". The Tribunal were satisfied that the Council would have reached the same conclusion regardless of what religion, belief or other view, was being promoted in this manner.

As a consequence, Mr Chondol was unable to shift the burden of proof onto his former employer, and his claim for discrimination failed.

The Appeal

Mr Chondol appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal ("EAT"), which upheld the Tribunal's decision.

In its Judgment, the EAT issued a useful reminder of the approach that the Judiciary will take when dealing with such cases. In essence, the primary focus will be dealing with "the fundamental question of the reason why the claimant was treated in the manner complained of". With this in mind, despite Mr Chondol's arguments to the contrary on appeal, the EAT accepted the Tribunal's fundamental finding that Mr Chondol was not dismissed because of his religious beliefs, but rather his promotion of them. This was the reason for his dismissal and it was non-discriminatory. Mr Chondol's claim therefore failed.

Commentary

It is essential that employers maintain a cogent body of evidence to demonstrate their reasoning behind key decisions made in the work place. A failure to do this may jeopardise the chances of successfully defending a discrimination claim in the Courts. In this case, the reason was determined to be unrelated to the employee's religion or belief.