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Is it religious discrimination if you convey your beliefs in a particular way?

14 August 2019

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (“the EAT”) has recently upheld in the case of Richard Page v NHS Trust Development Authority (“the Trust”) a decision that a Claimant had not been subject to religious discrimination due to the way in which he conveyed his religious beliefs.

Mr Page worked for the Trust and was a practising Christian who held firm beliefs that a child should be brought up by a mother and father. He believed that it was “not normal” for a child to be adopted by a single parent or same sex couple. Mr Page was also a magistrate.

In 2014, whilst sitting as a magistrate, Mr Page expressed his view that he did not agree with a same sex couple adopting a child and disciplinary action took place against him. This was reported in the Mail on Sunday but Mr Page failed to inform the Trust of his interview with them. When the Trust learnt of the article, it arranged a meeting with Mr Page to discuss matters. Prior to the meeting, Mr Page held a live radio interview discussing the matter again but failed to inform the Trust of this. The meeting with the Trust then took place and Mr Page was asked to consider whether the readers of the newspaper and listeners of the radio would think that there was a connection between his views and those of the Trust. Mr Page was also asked to inform the Trust if he planned to give any further interviews to the media. Mr Page stated that he had not thought about what people would think. Mr Page later apologised for his actions and agreed that he would notify the Trust if he planned to speak to the media again.

However, unbeknownst to the Trust, Mr Page continued to speak to the media. When the Trust found out about this, it arranged another meeting with Mr Page. Before this meeting, Mr Page conducted further media interviews making it clear that he did not agree with same sex couples adopting children. Mr Page met with the Trust and was informed that as he had contacted the media without informing it, Mr Page could either resign from his post voluntarily or he would be suspended pending an investigation into his conduct. Mr Page did not resign and was suspended. Following the investigation, the Trust decided that it was not in its interests for Mr Page to continue in his role. This was due to his views having “a negative impact on the confidence of staff, patients and the public in general”. Mr Page also failed to accept that his personal views could be open to misinterpretation and have a negative impact on the Trust.

Mr Page subsequently lodged a direct discrimination claim in the Employment Tribunal (“the ET”). He complained that his suspension, the investigation and the fact that he was not able to continue in his role were acts of discrimination based on his religious beliefs. The ET held that the Trust’s actions were not because of Mr Page’s beliefs but that “it acted as it did because of the manner in which Mr Page expressed his belief”. His claim therefore failed.

Mr Page appealed to the EAT but the EAT upheld the ET’s decision. It stated that the ET had already found that the Trust “acted as it did because of the manner in which the Claimant had his expressed his beliefs, the fact that he has appeared in the press and TV without informing the Trust when he had been expressly told to do so, the fact that his actions were clearly in conflict with the protection of health….and because there was a specific and genuine concern on the part of the Trust as to the impact of the Claimant’s actions on the Trust’s ability to serve the entire community…All of these matters answer the ‘reason why’ question which the Tribunal was required to ask itself. None of them were found to relate to the Claimant’s religious belief”.

Comment

This case illustrates how an employer can dismiss an employee who demonstrates their religious beliefs in an inappropriate manner and not be held liable for discrimination. Mr Page was not dismissed because of his religious beliefs but for disobeying the Trust’s instructions not to speak to the media.

By Emily Calfe

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