Something I’ve not yet commented on since my part facultative-festive and part enforced-technological break is the welcome restoration of sense and good legal analysis to the field of religious discrimination by the Employment Appeal Tribunal, which has reversed the much-publicised but obviously wrong decision at first instance in this case. Usefully Employed ran with the story just before Christmas, as did John Boch at Family Lore. Read the EAT’s judgment here.
I’m glad to say the EAT agrees with all my criticisms of the original judgment. The Employment Tribunal was hopelessly confused about that discriminaiton means, thinking that because Ms. Ladele’s refusal to conduct civil partnership ceremonies was motivated by her Christian beliefs, it follows that Islington’s discipline of her was tratment on grounds of those beliefs – which it plainly wasn’t. It was always clear that what happened could never properly have been characterised as direct discrimination – I’m glad the EAT says so in terms (see paragraph 53 of the judgment). Nor was it indirect discrimination to discipline her since according to the EAT a council which is obliged to perform civil parterships is entitled to require its employees to provide them. Quite right.
The EAT did not find it necessary to go as far as Liberty asked them to do – to rule in effect that council have to require all registrars to carry ou civil partnerships so as to avoid discriminaiton on grounds of sexuality – though I think that must be a reasonable legal argument. If fundamenalist Christians out there want to leave open the option of being given special, favourabl arrangements by their employers when it comes to dealing with gay people then I’d advise them not to take silly cases like Ms. Ladele’s: I think there’s a fair chaince Liberty’s argument might win out if it came up again. The only thing I don’t understand is why it’s Liberty that was making this argument (which has nothing to do with Liberty and everything to do with sexual orientation and equality) and not the Commission for Equality and Human Rights. I’m afraid this sugests there might be something wrong with both organisations.
Finally, the EAT agreed with me that the original findings of harrassment were based on bad reasoning, and insufficient consideration of whether the supposed harrassment was on grounds of religion. It wasn’t.
I think the EAT was quite right to substitute its own finding rather than order another tribunal hearing: it’s quite clear that the evidence in this case discloses no discrimination or harrassment and that no reasonable tribunal could have found it. Ms. Ladele got her moment in the sun because she happened to chance upon an unreasonable and very confuded tribunal; I wouldn’d advice her to appeal any further; she has absolutely no chance of winning.