Threatening to fire a Christian registrar who asked to be exempt from registering homosexual civil partnerships was not an act of discrimination by Islington Council, a court has decided.
The ruling, published today by the Employment Appeal Tribunal, overturns a previous decision that found in favour of Miss Lillian Ladele.
Miss Ladele intends to appeal today’s ruling to the Court of Appeal.
Lawyers acting for Miss Ladele say she was shunned by colleagues who mounted a witch hunt against her because of her Christian beliefs on marriage.
The original tribunal accepted the claims, but today that decision has been reversed by the EAT, chaired by its President, Mr Justice Elias.
The EAT did accept that Islington had acted in an improper, unreasonable and extraordinary manner (paragraphs 62 and 77 of the judgment) but ruled it did not amount to religious discrimination.
The ruling states: “The council were not taking disciplinary action against Ms Ladele for holding her religious beliefs; they did so because she was refusing to carry out civil partnership ceremonies and this involved discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.
“The council were entitled to take the view that they were not willing to connive in that practice by relieving Ms Ladele of these duties, notwithstanding that her refusal was the result of her strong and genuinely held Christian beliefs.
“The council were entitled to take the view that this would be inconsistent with their strong commitment to the principles of non-discrimination and would send the wrong message to staff and service users.
“There were clearly some unsatisfactory features about the way the council handled this matter. The claimant’s beliefs were strong and genuine and not all of management treated them with the sensitivity which they might have done.”
The case was backed financially by The Christian Institute. Colin Hart, its Director, said: “Gay rights are not the only rights. If this decision is allowed to stand it will help squeeze out Christians from the public sphere because of their religious beliefs on ethical issues.”
Lillian Ladele’s solicitor is Mark Jones, head of Employment law at Ormerods solicitors.
Miss Ladele’s solicitor Mark Jones said: “Lillian Ladele intends to appeal the judgment given by the tribunal today.”
He continued: “The evidence showed that Lillian performed all of her duties to the same high standard for the LGBT community as she did for everyone.
“This case has been about the shortfall between the principle of equal dignity and respect for different lifestyles and world views, and Islington Council’s treatment of Lillian Ladele – conduct which the tribunal felt moved to describe as extraordinary and unreasonable.
“The case has also been about the reason why Islington Council decided to designate Lillian Ladele a civil partnership registrar, without informing her, when she had asked not to be made one; when the council expressly knew it would conflict with her religious belief (a religious belief it accepted was worthy of respect); and when the evidence showed that her involvement was not even required to help the council provide its civil partnership service.
“The council has since then pursued Lillian Ladele in disciplinary proceedings which it has made clear may ultimately lead to her dismissal.”
Councillor John Gilbert, Executive Member for Human Resources at Islington Council, said: “The council is extremely pleased with this decision which it believes to be the right one.”
A BBC news report on the original tribunal ruling (July 2008)