A school assistant who took her ex-employer to an employment tribunal on the grounds of direct discrimination because of her religious beliefs has lost her claim.
The claimant, Kristie Higgs, was dismissed from the Christian school where she worked due to gross misconduct after she shared two posts on Facebook which offered negative critique of primary schools introducing the teaching of LGBT relationships in classes.
The headteacher of the school was notified, anonymously, and received complaints about the posts, which were described as ‘homophobic and prejudiced to the LGBT community’. Ms Higgs argued that her dismissal, following a suspension and investigation into her conduct, was a breach of her freedom of speech and freedom of religion.
The tribunal found that, her dismissal, rather than being as a direct result of her Christianity (she was neither directly discriminated against or harassed for her beliefs) had been due to her lack of beliefs – in issues relating to gender fluidity and same-sex marriage. The tribunal was tasked with deciding if there had been a casual connection between her beliefs and the way she had been treated by her ex-employer, which they found that there was not. Her claim was therefore dismissed.
The judge stated that: “Although not stated as clearly or simply as this, the act of which we concluded Mrs Higgs was accused and eventually found guilty was posting items on Facebook that might reasonably lead people who read her posts to conclude that she was homophobic and transphobic. That behaviour, the school felt, had the potential for a negative impact in relation to various groups of people, namely pupils, parents, staff and the wider community. We were also conscious that Mrs Higgs made it clear that she had no intention of desisting from making any further such posts in the future.”
This is an interesting case for employers as, whilst is it against the law to discriminate against a person because of their religion or belief, this case demonstrates an instance where religious beliefs would not be a viable reason not to dismiss a person. In this case, the claimant hadn’t been treated unfairly directly, compared to her colleagues, because she was a Christian and held the views that she did but because she had, in her actions, caused harm to others – whether directly or indirectly.
Still, employers should be careful when they are dismissing someone due to their religious beliefs or practices as it could still amount to discrimination where it may be that the policies that are developed are that which those who are of a particular religion would not be able to follow, or a person is treated unfairly as a direct result of their views.
- Religion and belief discrimination - overview and in depth