Dismissal for religious belief or misconduct?

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Page v Lord Chancellor and anor

It would be unlawful discrimination under the Equality Act 2010 to dismiss an employee for a reason relating to a protected characteristic. Whilst religious belief is a protected characteristic would a public announcement relating to an employee’s religious beliefs in the context of their job also be protected? This was the issue in the case of Page v Lord Chancellor and anor which highlighted that the means of expressing a complaint can be treated as a separate issue to the subject matter of the complaint. 

Mr Page was removed from the role of magistrate

Mr Page was a magistrate of strong Christian conviction who had refused to agree an adoption application by a same-sex couple. He had been issued with a reprimand and required to undergo remedial training before being allowed to resume his sitting duties. Mr Page considered that this was discrimination and gave interviews to the press relating to his treatment.  He was told not to contact the media again but later appeared on the BBC. As a result of this, he was removed from the role of magistrate. 

Mr Page’s claim of religious victimisation was dismissed. 

There was a distinction between dismissal because of a discrimination complaint and dismissal because of the manner in which a complaint is aired. The dismissal was not because of the allegation that his treatment was discriminatory. It was due to him expressing his views to the media in direct conflict with the employer’s policy and instructions which were based on the need to maintain public confidence in the impartiality of the judicial system. 

Key takeaway points

In practice, it might be very difficult to distinguish whether the treatment was because of the protected issue that was raised or the manner in which the issue had been raised. This case concerned discrimination but it could also apply where the allegation is that there has been a public interest disclosure. In order to support the employer’s argument that the two may be distinguished it will be important to have in place clear procedures to allow grievances to be raised for consideration.

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