Case of the week: Religious discrimination by association

Saini v All Saints Haque Centre & Bungay & Paul

Facts

All Saints Haque Centre, in Wolverhampton, provides immigration advice. Mr Saini (a Hindu) was employed as a senior advice worker. Mr Chandel (a Hindu) was the centre’s project manager. Mr Bungay, a follower of the Ravidass faith, was employed as an advice worker until June 2005, when his post came to an end due to loss of funding. Mr Paul, also of the Ravidass faith, was a volunteer worker until his work also came to an end in June 2005. Bungay and Paul resented losing their posts and the fact that, as they saw it, non-Ravidassis had been retained by the Hindu manager.

By October 2005, control of the board of directors had passed to Bungay and Paul and associates from the Ravidass community. They wanted to remove Chandel from his post.

Following complaints from users of the centre about its charging practices, the Office of the Immigration Services Commissioner carried out an inquiry. In November 2005, it concluded that financial charges had wrongly been made by the centre. The report was critical of Chandel’s inadequate supervision of staff. In spring 2006, the centre received further complaints about cases handled by Saini and charging practices. The board pursued these complaints by instituting disciplinary proceedings against Chandel and, ultimately, dismissing him for gross misconduct in July 2006.

Having previously assured Saini that his position was safe, the board later interviewed him, suspended him, and then invited him to a disciplinary hearing in relation to the complaints. These proceedings were a vehicle to implicate Chandel, who the board were intent on removing. Feeling intimidated and bullied, Saini resigned in July 2006.

Decision

The tribunal found that both Saini and Chandel had been unfairly and wrongfully dismissed. It found that Chandel had been discriminated against on grounds of religion but that Saini had not. The tribunal considered that the board’s conduct towards Saini fulfilled the definition of “harassment” but that it was not unlawful as the harassment was not on the grounds of his religion. Saini appealed. The appeal focused on whether the harassment of Saini was on the grounds of Chandel’s religion and, if so, if the claim of harassment could succeed.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) held there will be religious discrimination not only where an employee is harassed on the grounds of his certain religious belief but also where he is harassed because of someone else’s certain religious belief. Once an employee establishes that he has been harassed because his employer is pursuing a discriminatory policy against the religious beliefs held by another, that is sufficient to amount to discrimination. Here, the EAT decided that Saini had been subject to religious discrimination, as the reason why the board mistreated him was their desire to get rid of Chandel because he was a Hindu.

Implications

This decision confirms that the religious discrimination laws cover discrimination by association. This ties in with existing case law which makes clear that an individual can be discriminated against on the grounds of another person’s race or disability. As it will not always be obvious to staff that discrimination of this type is unacceptable in the workplace, it is important for employers to ensure that associative discrimination is specifically highlighted in policies and diversity training programmes.

Mary Clarke, partner, DLA Piper

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