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Religious Discrimination

The Employment Appeal Tribunal in the case of Gan Menachem Hendon Limited v de Groen has held that dismissing a teacher working at an ultra-orthodox Jewish nursery for refusing to lie about her living arrangements was not religious discrimination.

Background

The Claimant worked for Gan Menachem Hendon Limited (“the Nursery”) as a teacher. The Nursery was an ultra-Orthodox Jewish school.

The Claimant attended a barbeque with her boyfriend and also present at the barbeque were some of the parents of the children who attended the Nursery and also some of the Nursery’s trustees. At some point during the barbeque, the Claimant’s boyfriend revealed that they lived together.

Co-habitation of non-married couples is in contravention of the beliefs of ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Soon after the barbeque, the Nursery received complaints and the Claimant was invited to attend a meeting at work. At this meeting the Claimant was asked about her living arrangements, was told that living with a man outside of marriage was wrong, that having children out of wedlock was wrong and that time was passing for her to have children (she was 23). It was suggested that to resolve the problem, the Claimant should lie and say she is not living with her boyfriend.

The Claimant refused to lie and was later dismissed. She brought various claims including direct sex discrimination, direct religious/belief discrimination, and harassment on the grounds of sex.

Decision

The Employment Tribunal upheld the Claimant’s claims. However, the Nursery partly succeeded on appeal.

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (“EAT”), while upholding that the Claimant had been discriminated against and harassed on the grounds of sex (due to the treatment and comments made at the meeting), held that the tribunal had erred in finding discrimination based on religion/belief.

The EAT held that the Claimant had been dismissed because of her non-compliance with the Nursery’s beliefs and she was not treated less favourably because of her own beliefs.

Comment

To be clear, employers cannot dismiss individuals for reasons related to that individual’s Protected Characteristic (e.g. sex, race, religion, disability etc.).  However, it seems that the case law is now clear that direct discrimination will not occur when less favourable treatment occurs because of the protected characteristic of the discriminator.

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