Removing Christian director who spoke out against homosexuality and same-sex adoption was lawful
An NHS Trust did not directly discriminate against a non-executive director on religious grounds when it decided not to renew his contract after he spoke out publicly against homosexuality and same-sex adoption. The Trust’s decision was not because of his beliefs or because he had expressed them. It was because of the manner in which he had expressed his beliefs.
Mr Page’s beliefs
Mr Page is a practising Christian. He was a non-executive director at the Trust. He was also a lay magistrate who participated in decisions involving adoptions.
In July 2014, he was on a panel of magistrates hearing an application by a same sex couple to adopt a child. He told a fellow magistrate he believed it was always in the child’s best interests to be brought up by a mother and a father. It was not “normal” to be adopted by a single parent or a same-sex couple. His fellow magistrate complained and court service disciplined Mr Page.
Mr Page gave newspaper and radio interviews about the disciplinary action and accused the court service of being prejudiced against him because he was Christian.
Trust instructs Mr Page not to give media interviews
The Trust found out about the disciplinary action and the interviews. It warned Mr Page that expressing his views in public could undermine confidence that he would exercise his judgment impartially. It told him he should inform the Trust of any further media interest.
Mr Page removed as magistrate
Mr Page continued to give interviews and was removed as a magistrate. He gave more media interviews saying that homosexual activity was wrong and he did not believe in same-sex marriage.
Trust decides not to renew Mr Page’s contract
The Trust suspended Mr Page and following an investigation it decided not to renew his contract.
Mr Page claims direct religious discrimination
Mr Page brought a claim for direct discrimination. He asserted that the Trust removed him from office because of his religious beliefs.
The employment tribunal rejected his claim. It ruled that the Trust had not removed him because of his beliefs or because he expressed them. It had removed him because of the manner in which he expressed them. He had spoken repeatedly to the media without informing the Trust, despite the Trust instructing him to seek its permission. Also, he had spoken to the media in a manner which suggested he was unable or unwilling to distinguish between his personal views and what it was appropriate for someone in a high-profile position to say to the media.
The Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld the tribunal’s decision.
To succeed in a claim of direct religious discrimination, the employee has to show that the employer treated them less favourably because of their religion. An employer cannot treat an employee less favourably because they hold a particular religious belief. However, an employee does not have free rein to express their beliefs in any manner they choose. If an employer reasonably considers that the way that an employee is expressing their beliefs is inappropriate, it is entitled to instruct them not to express their beliefs in that way. If the employee ignores the instruction and is disciplined or dismissed as a result they will not succeed in a claim for direct religious discrimination. This is because the employer is not treating them less favourably because of their religion but because they ignored a lawful instruction.
Page v NHS Trust Development Authority
The articles published on this website, current at the date of publication, are for reference purposes only. They do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your own circumstances should always be sought separately before taking any action.