EAT rejects religious discrimination claim of Christian counsellor

A Christian relationship counsellor who was sacked after refusing to give sex therapy to gay couples has lost his unfair dismissal appeal.

Employment experts have said the case, McFarlane v Relate, acts as a reminder for firms to implement robust equal opportunities policies which cannot be jeopardised by the views of a single employee.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal yesterday upheld a tribunal’s ruling that Gary McFarlane, 47, was not discriminated against on religious grounds when he was dismissed after asking not to work with same-sex couples.

McFarlane was fired for failing to uphold Relate’s equal opportunities policy.

But he alleged, among other things, direct and indirect religious discrimination and harassment on the grounds of his religion.

Relate’s chief executive, Claire Tyler, said: “The appeal judgement validates Relate’s commitment to equality of access to our services.”

Audrey Williams, head of discrimination law at the law firm Eversheds said: “The ruling emphasises that an organisation with an equal opportunities ethos will not be forced to compromise its principles by accommodating the wishes of an individual employee.”

Williams said the ruling was the latest in a series of cases where sexual orientation and religious beliefs have clashed.

She added: ” The same point was made last year when the Employment Appeal Tribunal rejected a claim brought by Lillian Ladele, a registrar who was disciplined after refusing, for religious reasons, to conduct same-sex civil partnership duties.”

Ladele has appealed her dismissal, with the outcome expected before Christmas.

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