The ruling by the employment appeals tribunal that a Christian registrar was not discriminated against by Islington Council over her refusal to perform civil partnerships has been welcomed.
Lillian Ladele had won at a previous employment tribunal that agreed she was discriminated against by her employer on the grounds of her religion.
The EAT ruled:
“The council were not taking disciplinary action against Ms Ladele for holding her religious beliefs.
“They did so because she was refusing to carry out civil partnership ceremonies and this involved discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.”
Samantha Mangwana, an employment solicitor at Russell, Jones and Walker, told PinkNews.co.uk:
“The EAT’s robust decision in Ladele is welcome clarification of the law.
“The EAT President’s judgement is clear – religious discrimination rights do not trump gay rights or vice versa.
“Rather, the EAT upheld Islington Council’s decision not to countenance intolerance.
“The EAT held that Ms Ladele was not disciplined by reason of her religion, but because she refused to do her job.
“It was legitimate for the council to promote equal opportunities, including the rights of the gay community, to have civil partnerships, and perfectly reasonable to require staff not to act in a discriminatory way.”
Ms Ladele’s case was funded by the Christian Institute. Her lawyers have said she may appeal. In order to do so they must to seek leave from EAT.
If leave is denied, they can still seek permission to appeal from Court of Appeal.
However, one legal expert told PinkNews.co.uk that the Ladele judgement is: “a good one – right decision for the right reasons.”
Sarah Ludford MEP, Liberal Democrat European justice & human rights spokeswoman, said:
“I am encouraged that the Commission appears to be actively questioning UK compliance with EU law designed to outlaw discrimination of the grounds of sexual orientation.
“Religious freedoms must be respected but not at the expense of upholding civil liberties for all.
“But while the Labour government’s apparent indulgence of religiously-based prejudice could make it very difficult for lesbian and gay teachers to find work in faith schools, at least the Ladele case is an encouraging sign that UK courts will uphold the principle that religion cannot trump the right to equal treatment.”
Baroness Ludford is seeking an audit by the European Commission of UK implementation of EU anti-discrimination law and in particular whether the pretext of religious views is used to undermine a ban on discrimination against gay employees.
UK legislation recently boosted the ability of some faith schools to discriminate in their employment practices.
The European Commission has replied that it is analysing UK compliance with equality standards.
The Lib Dem Youth and Equalities spokesperson Lynne Featherstone MP said the Ladele ruling was significant.
“It would be completely unacceptable for a registrar to refuse to marry a couple who had had premarital sex because of their religious belief.
“This case is no different.
“There is no hierarchy between strands of equality, just the principle of mutual respect and tolerance – particularly for those in public administration.”
Campaigner Gino Meriano started an online petition supporting Islington Council’s appeal.
He told PinkNews.co.uk:
“We are of course very pleased with this result and I should like to thank everyone for their support and encouragement.
“This is amazing news.”