When prejudice is not discrimination
Tolerance is on the rise. The results from Ireland’s recent referendum permitting same-sex marriage symbolised the huge advances made by campaigners for equality in our modern society. One’s sexual preference is also protected from discrimination in the workplace thanks to the Equality Act 2010. These are liberal times, where basic human rights should be both protected and celebrated.
Given the rise in tolerance, you would expect that differing and divisive opinions would be on the wane and discredited as draconian, possibly putting the holder in trouble should they express opposing beliefs and criticism of tolerance. However, you’d be wrong, as proved in the recent case of a Christian nursery worker who, after airing her views on homosexuality and marriage in the workplace, was sacked but subsequently won a discrimination claim against her former employer.
Aftyer being approached by a colleague on her views on same-sex marriage, the nursery worker, Sarah Mbuyi, candidly explained that it was her belief gay practice is contrary to the bible and the gay lifestyle was sin. Her colleague, who is lesbian, reported this to her employers who decided to terminate Ms Mbuyi’s contract on the grounds of gross misconduct. Understandable, some might say: there is no place for such prejudice in today’s world and the sacking sets an example to anyone holding similar prejudices.
Yet after taking her former employers to court, the employment tribunal ruled that the nursery discriminated against Ms Mbuyi, who only aired her views after her colleague approached her. They could find no evidence Ms Mbuyi had deliberately targeted her colleague and therefore was not actively discriminating against anyone. The tribunal described her belief as one that is ‘worthy of respect in a democratic society, is not incompatible with human dignity and is not in conflict with the fundamental rights of others.’ Therefore it judged that it was the employer who discriminated against their employer based on her religious beliefs, which is another protected characteristic.
The message to this story is that, whilst tolerance is certainly on the rise in our modern society, this does not mean people cannot have opposing views, particularly if they are founded on strong beliefs and aren’t intended to do harm to another.
Respecting sexual equality at work: https://hr-24.co.uk/industry-news/respecting-sexual-equality-work