Can an employee argue that the disciplinary warning was discriminatory on the grounds of promoting her religious beliefs at work?
Mrs Wasteney (the Claimant) was employed by East London NHS Foundation Trust as a senior manager. She is Christian. Complaints were received by junior worker of Muslim faith against the Claimant.
The complaints related to various interactions which were characterised by the junior employee as "grooming"; these included the Claimant praying with the junior employee and the laying on of hands, giving a book which concerned the conversion to Christianity of a Muslim woman, and inviting the junior employee to various services and events at the Claimant’s church.
The Respondent had investigated the complaints under its disciplinary procedure and had found the Claimant guilty of serious misconduct, namely the blurring of professional boundaries and the subjection of a junior colleague to improper pressure and unwanted conduct. The Claimant was given a final written warning, which was subsequently reduced on appeal to a first written warning.
The Claimant had complained to the Employment Tribunal (ET) of direct discrimination and harassment because of/related to her religion or belief. The Claimant also relied upon Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights which provides the right to freedom of thought, and also freedom to manifest religious beliefs.
The Claimant’s claims were dismissed by the ET. The Claimant appealed to the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT).
The EAT concluded that the Claimant was not subjected to disciplinary process or sanction because she manifested her religious belief but because she subjected a junior colleague to unwanted and unwelcome conduct, going substantially beyond "religious discussion", without regard to her own influential position.
This was a sensible decision and gives some comfort to employers. The reason for the disciplinary sanction in this case had nothing to do with the Claimant’s religious beliefs but because she “blurred professional boundaries and placed an improper pressure on a junior employee.”
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