The chair of an employment tribunal appeal panel has indicated he is unlikely to back a Christian registrar who wanted to opt out of performing civil partnerships on religious grounds.
In July a tribunal ruled that Lillian Ladele was discriminated against on the grounds of her Christian faith and suffered harassment.
“It is an important case, which may have a wider impact than the dispute between the parties,” the tribunal said, adding it accepted that it would be “wrong for one set of rights to trump another.”
“Islington Council rightly considered the importance of the right of the gay community not to be discriminated against, but did not consider the right of Miss Ladele as a member of a religious group.”
The tribunal said that Islington council was able to fulfil its responsibility to perform civil partnerships without insisting that all registrars carry them out.
Therefore by compelling Ms Ladele to conduct gay and lesbian ceremonies the council was guilty of indirect religious discrimination.
The council appealed the decision.
Last week Justice Sir Patrick Elias, President of the Employment Appeal Tribunal, said there was a “fundamental problem” with the Ladele ruling.
“Let’s say I am an anarchist and I feel strongly that I want to go around blowing things up, but my employers object,” he said, according to the Islington Tribune.
“It may well be that anarchy is my genuinely held belief. But it does not mean that my employer’s decision not to allow me to is discriminating against that belief.
“The fundamental problem with the tribunal’s judgement was that the reason for her treatment was not properly addressed.
“Nowhere does the tribunal say, ‘Let’s analyse whether the reason for her disciplinary hearing was her religious belief.’
“The council say the reason was that she refused to carry out civil partnerships.
“This is a fundamental error to confuse unreasonable behaviour and discriminatory behaviour. I am not sure the tribunal appreciated that.
“So often employers get things badly wrong. In this case in Islington, I would say that argument could probably be sustained. But getting things wrong is not the same as discrimination.”
A ruling is expected before Christmas.
Ms Ledele, who had worked for the council for more than 16 years, initially swapped with colleagues to avoid performing gay and lesbian ceremonies after civil partnerships became legal in 2005.
After formal complaints were made against her, an internal disciplinary investigation began.
She was shunned by colleagues, branded homophobic and threatened with the sack.
Christian fundamentalist groups have claimed that her employment tribunal ruling will set a precedent about where they can and cannot claim their religious beliefs should be taken into account at work.
It raises the possibility of innumerable Christians and others claiming they should be allowed to opt out of performing their duties because of their religious beliefs.