Employers are not allowed to discriminate against workers on the grounds of their religion or religious beliefs. In Page v NHS Trust Development Authority, the Employment Appeal Tribunal looked at whether an employee can be fairly dismissed for the way he expresses his beliefs, rather than the beliefs themselves.
Mr Page was a non-executive director of an NHS Trust. He also had a job as a magistrate. In his magistrate’s role he sat on a panel to consider an adoption by a same-sex couple. He said it was ‘not normal’ for children to be adopted by a single parent or same-sex couple and children should be brought up by a father and a mother. His magistrate colleagues complained and disciplinary action was taken. Mr Page then spoke to the press, saying his views stemmed from his Christian beliefs. The Trust heard about these comments and told him to stop talking to the press. However, he continued to do so, including primetime TV interviews. He was removed as a magistrate. He was also suspended by the Trust and his position was not renewed due to his behaviour. He brought discrimination claim against the Trust.
The employment tribunal dismissed his claims. He was not dismissed because of his religious beliefs or his expression of it. He was dismissed because he continued speaking to the press despite being asked to stop. He appeared unable to distinguish between his own personal views and what was appropriate for a high-profile person to say to the media. The Employment Appeal Tribunal agreed. He had been dismissed for clear non-discriminatory reasons – speaking to the media against Trust instructions and in a way which could detrimentally affect the Trust’s relationship with a section of the community. A person who spoke out in a similar away about something unrelated to religious beliefs would have been treated in the same way. The instruction not to talk to the media did not affect his freedom of religion under article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights either. He didn’t need to give interviews or make those comments in order to manifest his faith.
This case shows that a clear, non-discriminatory reason for treatment will defeat a discrimination claim. However, there remains a natural tension between religion and sexual orientation that employers must navigate sensitively and with care.