Christian registrar Lillian Ladele’s lawyer has asked permission to appeal a recent ruling by an Employment Appeal Tribunal that her employer, Islington Council, did not discriminate against her on religious grounds after she refused to officiate at gay partnership ceremonies.
The EAT ruling, made just before Christmas, overturned an employment tribunal decision in July 2008 which said that Islington had, in taking disciplinary action against Ladele, discriminated against her on religious grounds.
Ladele’s lawyer, Mark Jones head of employment law at Ormerods, told Personnel Today that he hopes to hear in the next two weeks or so if permission to appeal has been granted. He said he could not give too much information about the appeal but that one of the grounds would relate to evidence put before the tribunal and the EAT by the council’s own witnesses “relating to the treatment of Ms Ladele and the reasons for it”.
The EAT ruled that although it accepted that “there were clearly some unsatisfactory features about the way the council handled this matter”, this did not amount to religious discrimination.
Ladele’s case is backed and funded by The Christian Institute. Director Colin Hart said: “Gay rights are not the only rights. If this decision is allowed to stand it will help squeeze out Christians from the public sphere because of their religious beliefs on ethical issues.”
Commenting on the case, Rachel Dineley, employment partner at Beachcroft, said: “The decision sends a clear message to managers that one group’s rights must not be allowed to supersede another’s when it comes to individual rights in the workplace.”
She added: “Importantly, the EAT has recognised the realities of life. As Mr Justice Elias – who presided at the EAT – has observed, ‘Christian managers may be wholly unsympathetic to the atheist views of their staff, and vice versa. That does not include a breach of these regulations.’
“The EAT has made clear the balance to be struck. One group’s rights must not be allowed to ‘trump’ another’s. Management must tolerate beliefs and not subject staff to any disadvantage because of them. The message is a simple one: show respect even when you disagree.”
Ladele is still employed by Islington Council.