Christian registrar loses employment tribunal appeal over civil partnerships

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An employment tribunal appeal has ruled that Islington council is not guilty of either religious discrimination in the case of a Christian registrar who refused to perform civil partnerships because she claimed they conflicted with her religious beliefs.

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.

In July a tribunal ruled that Lillian Ladele was discriminated against on the grounds of her Christian faith and suffered harassment.

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.

The employment appeal tribunal’s judgement was published today. It states:

“The council were entitled to take the view that this would be inconsistent with their strong commitment to the principles of nondiscrimination and would send the wrong message to staff and service users.

“There were clearly some unsatisfactory features about the way the council handled this matter. The claimant’s beliefs were strong and genuine and not all of management treated them with the sensitivity which they might have done. However, we are satisfied that the Tribunal erred in finding that any of the grounds of discrimination was made out. In our judgment, there is no proper evidential basis on which a Tribunal properly directing itself in law could reach that conclusion.”

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.

Christian fundamentalist groups had 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.