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Protected Beliefs and Same-Sex Relationships/Transgender Issues

The often-heated debate concerning same-sex relationships and transgender issues can hardly have escaped anyone’s notice. In the case of a school pastoral worker who was dismissed after expressing her forthright views on the subject on social media, however, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) sought to impose legal order on the fray.

The secondary school where the woman worked had received complaints about her social media posts relating to relationships education in primary schools. She was suspended and, following a disciplinary process, dismissed. She later launched Employment Tribunal (ET) proceedings asserting that she had suffered direct discrimination because of, or harassment relating to, her protected beliefs.

In rejecting her claim, however, the ET concluded that the reason for her dismissal was not because of, or related to, her protected beliefs. It found that the measures taken by the school were due to its concern that someone reading her posts could reasonably form the opinion that she held homophobic and transphobic views, something she vehemently denied.

Upholding her challenge to that outcome, the EAT noted that it was expressing no views as to the merits of the national debate and that its role was confined solely to determining questions of law. It emphasised, however, the fundamental importance of the woman’s human rights to freely express herself and to manifest her religious beliefs. Such rights are, it noted, the pillars of any democracy and it matters not whether the beliefs in question are popular or mainstream or even whether their expression may cause offence.

The ET was entitled to find that it was the school’s concern about how others might view the posts that underlay each of the steps taken against her. It failed, however, to ask itself whether there was a close or direct link, or nexus, between her posts and her protected beliefs. Had it done so, it would have concluded that there was such a nexus.

When determining the reason why the school acted as it did, the ET was required to consider whether its actions were prescribed by law and necessary for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. It was thus obliged to perform a proportionality assessment before deciding whether the actions were because of, or related to, the manifestation of her protected beliefs, or were in fact due to a justified objection to the manner of that manifestation. The case was remitted to the ET for rehearing.

Published in
25 June 2023
Last Updated
16 July 2023