June 23, 2016

Born-again Christian loses religious discrimination appeal

A born-again Christian who pressured a Muslim colleague to convert has lost an appeal against her employer for religious discrimination.

Ms Wasteney, who made the claim against East London NHS Foundation Trust, was disciplined after allegedly offering to pray for her junior colleague, giving her a book about a Muslim woman converting to Christianity, and repeatedly inviting the colleague to Church events.

When she received a final written warning, Ms Wasteney brought the case on the grounds of indirect religious discrimination and harassment.

‘Divine intervention’ – Tribunal dismisses appeal

Ms Wasteney’s case hinged on an interpretation of article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which provides the right to ‘freedom of thought, conscience and religion’ and freedom to manifest religious beliefs.

The Tribunal rejected her claim because she had over-extended her freedom to manifest
religious beliefs, saying:

Ms Wasteney was not disciplined because of her religion, but because her actions blurred professional boundaries and placed an improper pressure on a junior employee.

On reflection for employers

The Tribunal drew this key distinction from case law when summing up, giving employers clear guidance on how to deal with similar issues:

  • It is unlawful discrimination for an employer to discipline an employee for simply manifesting a religious belief

  • An employer is within its rights to take disciplinary action against an employee for improperly manifesting a religious belief

It is the manner, the place and/or the person to whom something is done, not the content (religious or otherwise) of what is being communicated.

The content could have been about something far less controversial, for example football, music or another pastime (of course, these are perhaps less likely to offend if foisted on someone) but the rationale remains the same.

Contact the team for further guidance or call 0845 184 4615.

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About the author

Andrew Weir

Andrew has a wealth of experience in advising and representing clients of all shapes and sizes in a range of Employment Law topics from unfair dismissal through to all forms of discrimination and the complexities of TUPE. Andrew heads up our Advice Line and Advocacy teams who provide Employment Law advice to our clients 24 hours a day, 365 days a year and support our clients in presenting defences at Employment Tribunals throughout the UK & Ireland.