Mr J Gould v St John’s Downshire Hill

How did a marriage lead to dismissal despite alleged discrimination?

How Did a Marriage Lead to Dismissal Despite Alleged Discrimination?

An important case on the topic of discrimination on the grounds of marriage was decided by the Employment Appeal Tribunal on 5 June 2020.

Under the Equality Act 2010 there are nine protected characteristics. One of these is the right not to be discriminated against on the grounds of marriage and/or civil partnership. Rev. Jonathan Gould alleged that his church discriminated against him when dismissing him after his marriage ended.

The Claimant was employed as a minister from 1 September 1995. In May 2015, he and his wife formally separated with a view to divorce in due course.

He was instructed by the Church to take four months of unpaid leave to address his marital issues. However, the attempt to restore the marriage was unsuccessful and the Claimant was dismissed in August 2016 with immediate effect. Rev. Jonathan Gould brought a claim for unfair dismissal and direct marriage discrimination and suggested he would not have been fired if he was single.

The Church stated that the reasons for Rev. Jonathan Gould’s termination were not exclusively related to the breakdown of the Claimant’s marriage, but rather as a result of his behaviour at the time. The Claimant ostracised those who took his wife’s side and instructed his parishioners not to talk to her. He also sought to isolate his wife through his controlling behaviour and there was a lack of Christian love and compassion in the way he treated his wife. The Claimant’s public manifestation of his marital difficulties was a principal reason for his contract being terminated.

The Employment Tribunal found that the reason for dismissal was a loss of trust and confidence in the Claimant. Although the breakdown of his marriage had contributed to the loss of trust, this was part of the background rather than the reason for the dismissal.

The Claimant’s appeal against the finding that the dismissal was fair also failed. The Employment Appeal Tribunal held that if the Employment Tribunal had decided that Rev. Jonathan Gould’s behaviour would not have been a primary reason for his dismissal, the claim could have succeeded. In this case, the appeal was dismissed.

Although this does not change the law as such, it provides further clarity and confirmation of existing case law.

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