In a win for religious freedom, a Christian registrar who refused to conduct gay weddings has won a landmark discrimination case.
Compensation for Lillian Ladele will be decided in September after Islington Council was found guilty of bullying and threatening to fire Ladele over her beliefs. There is no limit to the amount that can be awarded for religious discrimination.
Despite working in the position for 16 years, Ladele was treated like a “pariah” and the council showed no respect for her Christian rights when she declined to perform same-sex civil partnership unions because she believed they were sinful, the employment tribunal found.
John Gilbert, Islington’s executive member for human resources, said: “We’re clearly disappointed, because we consider our approach was the right one. On first reading, the tribunal seems to have based its findings primarily on the fact that we could have continued to provide civil partnerships without Ms Ladele. The wider issue of whether councils should be able to expect employees to carry out civil partnerships doesn’t seem to have been fully addressed.”
Speaking after the hearing, Ladele said: “It is a victory for religious liberty – not just for myself, but for others in a similar position to mine. Gay rights should not be used as an excuse to bully or harass people over their religious beliefs.”
Lisa Mayhew, employment lawyer at Jones Day, said: “It is a bit of a wake-up call for employers. They need to think about whether their instructions and the tasks expected of staff might cause people with religious beliefs more problems than others.
“It does not have to be religion – this could apply across the spectrum in terms of race, gender or sexual orientation.”
In 2006, British Airways came under fire for stopping a check-in worker from wearing a crucifix necklace at work. Over the past year, the tribunals have heard more than 600 cases concerning religious belief discrimination complaints.