An employment tribunal has told a Church of Scotland minister it cannot hear her case for sex discrimination, confirming church laws that say ministers are office holders, and not staff.
Helen Percy’s case, which has been ongoing for eight years, will now go to the House of Lords. It could rule in her favour, giving church officers the same employment rights as everyone else.
Traditionally, the clergy has been exempt from employment rights because members were deemed to be office holders, not employees, and as such were working for God, rather than an earthly organisation.
In Scotland, the Church of Scotland Act 1921 gives the church the right to govern its own affairs. The law says that the church is ‘subject to no civil authority to legislate… including the right to determine all questions concerning membership and office in the Church’.
Percy claims she lost her job after having sexual relations with a church elder. She says the discrimination arose because the church had “not taken similar action against male ministers who are known to have had/are having extra-marital sexual relationships”.
In 2002, a report by trade union Amicus said that religious institutions had “some of the worst industrial relations practises and horror stories… ever heard”.