Christian teacher’s dismissal for refusing to divorce sex offender is religious discrimination
So said the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in Pendleton v Derbyshire County Council. Employment Law solicitor, Nicola Evans, looks back at this decision and what it means for employers.
Mrs Pendleton was a teacher with a long unblemished service record. She was also an Anglican Christian.
Her husband, a teacher at another school, was convicted of making indecent images of children.
She chose to stand by him. Her decision was based on her Christian belief in the sanctity of her marriage vows.
Despite Mrs Pendleton having no prior knowledge of her husband’s behaviour, the school where she worked advised her they couldn’t support her if she did not divorce him.
She was summarily dismissed when she confirmed she would not be doing so, and issued a claim of indirect religious discrimination.
Although not upheld initially, Mrs Pendleton’s claim was successful in the EAT.
The EAT concluded that employees with a religious belief in the sanctity of marriage faced a particular disadvantage when asked by their employer to divorce their partner.
It held the school’s stance could not be justified.
The school’s need to ensure the safety of its pupils was a legitimate aim. But the decision to dismiss was not a proportionate means of achieving this aim. Its practice was indirectly discriminatory.
What this means for you
The EAT noted a ‘practice’ was established which put Mrs Pendleton at a particular disadvantage. This could not be justified and amounted to unlawful discrimination.
This case confirms that a policy which has only been applied to one employee can be viewed as a practice if it’s clear that it would also be applied in similar circumstances in the future.
Employers need to bear this in mind when making decisions that could be seen to be indirectly discriminatory.
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