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Indirect discrimination and disciplinary proceedings

The Employment Appeal Tribunal in the case of Trayhorn v The Secretary of State for Justice has held that there was no indirect discrimination when a prison worker faced disciplinary action for quoting bible passages that had caused offence to some members of the congregation.

Background

The Claimant was a Pentecostal Christian and a trained minister. He was employed at a prison as a gardener and also volunteered in the prison chapel.

The Claimant was subject to a complaint in 2014 about comments that he had made on same-sex marriage while addressing the congregation. Following this complaint, he was instructed by the prison not to preach at any more services. However, following this instruction, the Claimant went on to read verses from the Bible which led to further complaints. An investigation was carried out and it was concluded that the Claimant had made homophobic comments. The Claimant was invited to a disciplinary hearing and informed that the outcome could result in a sanction up to a final written warning.

The Claimant soon after went on sick leave and subsequently resigned. He submitted an employment tribunal claim for indirect discrimination on the ground of religion and belief claiming that the prison’s conduct policy and equality policy put employees who were of Christian faith, particularly the Pentecostal denomination, at a particular disadvantage because they were more likely to quote or discuss parts of the Bible that some might find offensive. The Claimant also claimed that he had personally suffered the disadvantage.

Decision

The Employment Tribunal rejected the claim because there was no evidence to support group or individual disadvantage. The Claimant appealed on the ground that the tribunal had erred in considering whether the policies had led to group disadvantage.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”) dismissed the appeal finding no evidence that religious discrimination had occurred. Section 19 of the Equality Act 2010 states that indirect discrimination occurs when a policy, criterion or practice is applied to all but puts or would put persons who share a protected characteristic (in this case religion or belief) at a particular disadvantage.

Furthermore, the EAT also agreed with the Tribunal’s decision that had it been necessary to consider whether the policies pursued legitimate aims, it would have found that the aims of retaining order and protecting prisoners within the prison environment were proportionate means of achieving legitimate aims.

Comment

The case demonstrates that claimants will need to establish group disadvantage in indirect religion or belief cases. However, employers should always take specific advice if a discrimination issue arises as if a claim of discrimination is successful, compensation is unlimited in the tribunal.

If you would like to speak to us about discrimination issues, please feel free to email us  or contact us on 0191 282 2880 for a no obligation chat.

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