UK: Court rules on Discrimination for Religious Beliefs
Mr Page, a practising Christian, was an NED of an NHS trust and also sat as a lay magistrate on family cases involving adoption decisions. He believed it wasn’t “normal” for a child, or in their best interests, to be adopted by a single parent or same-sex couple. After he was reprimanded by the Chief Justice for refusing to allow a same-sex couple to adopt a child, this was reported in the press, and it was clear that Mr Page had spoken to reporters about his views on same-sex adoption.
When the trust found out about this, he was warned that public expression of his views could undermine confidence that he would exercise his judgement impartially and he was told to inform the trust of any further media interest. However, he continued to give media interviews and failed to inform the trust, and his term of office as an NED was not renewed.
Mr Page brought claims of direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds of his religious beliefs. A tribunal dismissed all his claims, and found that the trust had taken action against Mr Page not because he was a Christian, or because he held the traditional family belief, but because he had expressed this belief and his views about homosexuality in the media in circumstances which justified the action taken. He appealed to the EAT and subsequently to the Court of Appeal, which both concluded that the tribunal was entitled to find that the trust had not acted unlawfully.
This decision highlights the important distinction between a person’s religious beliefs and the manner in which they express those beliefs. Employers may take action where an employee expresses their beliefs in an inappropriate manner, provided they conduct a fair investigation and disciplinary process.
This case also highlights the ongoing tension between religion and sexual orientation in discrimination claims in which the trend continues to be that the former gives way for the latter.