Tribunal hears appeal in Lillian Ladele case

The case of Lillian Ladele, the Christian registrar who faced the sack because of her religious beliefs on marriage, has been heard by the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

The appeal was heard yesterday by Mr Justice Elias, President of the Employment Appeal Tribunal. Judgment was reserved.

A ruling could come before Christmas but is more likely to be delivered in January.

Miss Ladele’s employers, Islington Council, are appealing against an earlier employment tribunal ruling in July which found that Miss Ladele had suffered harassment and religious discrimination.

Lawyers for Islington Council argue that the disciplinary action taken against Miss Ladele was not because of her religious belief but because of her refusal to carry out a management instruction.

They also argue that the management instruction was necessary in order to uphold the council’s policy on equality and dignity for all.

Human rights group, Liberty, intervened in the appeal to support Islington. Its lawyers argued that the council’s decision to require Miss Ladele to register homosexual civil partnerships did not amount to indirect discrimination.

But James Dingemans QC, representing Miss Ladele, argued that Islington had prioritised sexual orientation rights over Miss Ladele’s religious rights. He said the original tribunal decision should be upheld.

The situation at Islington arose after civil partnerships became law and council bosses attempted to force Miss Ladele to register same-sex unions against her will.

The Civil Partnership Act requires local councils to provide registrations for same-sex couples but does not require all registrars to do so.

Miss Ladele – an Islington employee for many years – had explained her religious belief that marriage is between one man and one woman, and asked for her beliefs to be accommodated.

She offered to swap shifts with other registrars who had no religious objection to facilitating same-sex unions – an arrangement which several other councils have found acceptable.

But Islington refused to allow that arrangement and proceeded to discipline Miss Ladele, labelling her as ‘homophobic’ and threatening her with dismissal.

The original tribunal ruled that Islington Council had “disregarded and displayed no respect for Ms Ladele’s genuinely held religious belief” and it had created an “intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for her on grounds of her religion on belief”.

It also found various acts of direct discrimination committed against Miss Ladele by Islington Council on the grounds of her religious belief.

These included:

    • failing to consider her for promotion;
    • deciding to discipline her and threatening her with dismissal;
    • concluding she had committed gross misconduct;
    • failing to redress allegations that she was “homophobic” and labelling and treating her as homophobic;
    • disregarding her concerns about her treatment;
    • failing to apply its anti-discrimination policies to gay colleagues who were mistreating her.

While the matter was ongoing Miss Ladele was not involved in civil partnership work. During that time, no same-sex couple was denied a civil partnership registration at Islington Council which, in its own words, continued to deliver a “first class service”.

Miss Ladele’s legal costs are being paid by The Christian Institute’s Legal Defence Fund.

A BBC news report from July

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