Case round up: Ladele v London Borough of Islington

The claimant, a Christian registrar, was directly and indirectly discriminated against on the grounds of her religion because she was subjected to disciplinary proceedings for refusing to conduct same-sex civil partnerships.

Religious conviction

Lilian Ladele was subject to a “provision, criterion or practice” (PCP) in that registrars were required to carry out civil partnership ceremonies and registration duties. However, she informed her employer of her refusal to participate in same-sex civil partnerships on religious grounds. This caused her gay colleagues to complain to their employer that she was discriminating on the grounds of sexual orientation, in breach of its Dignity for All policy.

The employer had previously offered Ladele a partial exemption from officiating at civil partnerships and repeated its offer, but she reiterated her objections. At the end of a disciplinary hearing she was warned that rejecting its proposal could result in her dismissal. Ladele brought tribunal proceedings and the tribunal found in her favour.

Although the employer had considered the importance of not discriminating against the gay community, it had not considered the impact on Ladele and her religious beliefs. The tribunal found a number of instances of less favourable treatment based on the employer’s failure to manage the situation appropriately and take an even-handed approach to the competing rights. It also found that the PCP put people with orthodox Christian beliefs at a disadvantage. Although there was a legitimate aim (promotion of gay rights), the means of achieving it had not been proportionate because the refusal by Ladele made no practical difference to the employer’s provision of ceremonies.

Key points

  • Trying to balance the rights of differing minority groups within the workplace is often difficult. However, one set of rights should not be prioritised over another.
  • If an employee links their behaviour to their religion (or race, sex, etc) take care to fully explore the facts and consider the impact on the business and whether a compromise is desirable and/or possible.

What you should do

  • Review equality policies to check they deal with conflicting rights in an appropriate and proportionate way. Do they provide the organisation with a pragmatic solution should any conflicts arise?

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