international employment law firm alliance L&E Global
United Kingdom

UK: Religion & Belief Discrimination: EAT upholds the decision that terminating the contract of a Christian actor who expressed her beliefs relating to homosexuality was not discriminatory

Authors: Heidi Watson, Ruth Bonino, Corinna Harris and Sophie Jackson

Ms. Omooba is a Christian actor, who was cast to play the role of Celie in the stage production of The Color Purple. Celie is widely regarded as a lesbian role and, when Ms. Omooba’s casting was announced, a social media storm developed relating to a past Facebook post in which she had expressed her belief that homosexuality is a sin.

The consequences of that storm led to the termination of Ms. Omooba’s contracts with the theatre (the second respondent) and her agency (the first respondent). She brought employment tribunal claims of religion and belief discrimination and harassment, and breach of contract. Shortly before the tribunal hearing, having only then read the script, the claimant volunteered she would never in fact have played the part of Celie, and would have resigned from the role in due course. She continued with her claims, but these were all dismissed by the tribunal and an award of costs made against her.

The tribunal found that while the situation would not have arisen but for the expression of her belief, the theatre terminated the contract because of concerns about the effect of the adverse publicity on the cohesion of the cast, audience reception, the producers’ reputation and the good standing and commercial successful of the production. The agency’s reason for terminating the contract was the commercial risk to its business if its clients and agents working in the business decided to leave because of the negative publicity.

As a result, the tribunal found that whilst Ms. Omooba’s belief formed part of the context, it was not a reason for either her dismissal by the theatre or the termination of her agency contract. The EAT upheld these conclusions, noting that the tribunal had carried out a detailed evaluation of the evidence.

Key Action Points for Human Resources and In-House Counsel

This case is one of the latest in a series of cases on belief discrimination. This can be a tricky area to navigate and it is important to consider taking legal advice when dealing with situations involving beliefs in the workplace.

Omooba v Michael Garrett Associates Ltd and another