Teacher sacked for living with her boyfriend loses claim for religious discrimination

Did the dismissal of a teacher at an ultra-orthodox Jewish nursery for refusing to cover up the fact she was living with her boyfriend amount to discrimination because of religion or belief?

No, ruled the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) which overturned a tribunal decision that a Jewish nursery that sacked a teacher after it learned she was living with her boyfriend was guilty of discrimination against the teacher.

Facts

The Claimant in that case worked as a teacher at a Jewish nursery which was run in accordance with ultra-orthodox Jewish principles.

When parents of children at the nursery found out that the Claimant was living with her boyfriend, they raised a concern with the nursery’s directors that the Claimant’s living arrangements contravened the beliefs of ultra-orthodox Jews that cohabiting outside of marriage was sinful.

This led to a meeting between the Claimant and the nursery’s managing director at which the Claimant was invited to say that she was no longer living with her boyfriend so that the nursery could inform concerned parents. The Claimant refused to lie and was dismissed by the nursery on the grounds that her living arrangements were incompatible with its ethos and were damaging to its reputation.

Claim

The Claimant brought a claim in the employment tribunal of discrimination on grounds of religion or belief.

ET

The employment tribunal ruled that the Claimant’s dismissal for cohabiting with her boyfriend amounted to discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief.

EAT

The nursery appealed on the ground that it did not amount to discrimination if an employer acted because of its own religious belief rather than the beliefs of the dismissed employee. The EAT agreed.

Overturning the tribunal’s finding of discrimination, the EAT ruled that that there was no evidence for the tribunal’s conclusion that the nursery, acting because of its own religious beliefs, had discriminated against the Claimant on the grounds of her religion or beliefs. The nursery would have dismissed anyone cohabiting outside of marriage regardless of their religion.

The EAT’s ruling was consistent with the decision in Lee v Ashers Baking Company Ltd ((the “gay cake case”), in which the Supreme Court ruled that a baker did not discriminate against a customer’s sexual orientation when it refused to ice a pro-gay marriage slogan on a cake because it would have refused to display the same slogan whatever the sexual orientation of the customer.

Comment

The EAT’s judgment in this case was that the Claimant could not succeed with a claim that the nursery had discriminated against her on grounds of religion or belief as the reason for her treatment was the nursery’s belief that cohabiting outside of marriage was not in keeping with the Jewish faith; it was not because of any religious belief that the Claimant had.

Gan Menachem Hendon Limited v Ms. Zelda de Groen

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