Demotion case to be rights test
Posted: 27 Oct 2011 @ 00:00
A HOUSING-association manager demoted for posting comments about gay marriage on Facebook is taking his employers to court for an alleged breach of his rights to freedom of speech and religious liberty.
Adrian Smith was redeployed as an adviser, and his pay was cut by 40 per cent, after he posted a link to a news story about gay marriage in churches, with the comment “an equality step too far”.
When one of his colleagues posted back, asking him to explain what he meant, Mr Smith posted: “I don’t understand why people who have no faith and don’t believe in Christ would want to get hitched in church. The Bible is quite specific that marriage is for men and women.
“If the state wants to offer civil marriage to the same sex then that is up to the state; but the state shouldn’t impose its rules on places of faith and conscience.”
He was reported to his employers, the Trafford Housing Trust. After an investigation, disciplinary proceedings were started against him. The Trust found that he had breached its code of conduct. Mr Smith is being supported in his legal action against the Trust by the Christian Institute. Mr Smith is asking for compensation for loss of earnings.
His solicitor, Tom Ellis, of the Manchester-based law firm Aughton Ainsworth, said: “Adrian was shocked and distressed to have been disciplined in this way for expressing his opinion on his Facebook page.
“Nothing he said was offensive or abusive. His comments were calm, measured, and reasonable. Adrian has been treated disproportionately, and even those who disagree with his opinions will surely agree that he has been treated unfairly.”
The director of the Christian Institute, Mike Judge, said: “Mr Smith made completely tame and inoffensive remarks outside of work time on his personal Facebook page. The comments certainly don’t amount to gross misconduct, which is usually reserved for things like theft or fraud.”
The gay-rights and human-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell has also called for his reinstatement with “at worst, a reprimand”.
A statement issued by Trafford Housing Trust said: “At the end of 2010, we updated our Code of Conduct for Employees and provided it to all staff. This version of the Code clearly set out what use employees can make of social networking sites such as Facebook.
“Some three months after this new code was issued, Mr Smith, without our authority or knowledge, and on a Facebook page that identified him as a manager at Trafford Housing Trust, made comments that were found, by a full disciplinary investigation in which he had Trade Union representation, to be in breach of the company’s code of conduct and other policies.
“Mr Smith was disciplined for his breach of company policy. The Trust made no comment about any personal beliefs that he holds.
“Mr Smith has commenced legal proceedings against the Trust, and so it is not appropriate for us to make any comment on the circumstance of this particular case, other than to say that the Trust will vigorously defend its position.”