Gay youth worker was discriminated against, tribunal rules

by
19 July 2007

by Simon Sarmiento

Mr Reaney arrives at court in March Photo:Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

Mr Reaney arrives at court in March Photo:Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

AN employment tribunal this week issued its judgment in the case brought against the Hereford diocesan board of finance by John Reaney (News, 20 April).

Mr Reaney succeeded in his claim that, in failing to appoint him to the post of youth worker, the Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Revd Anthony Priddis, and the Hereford diocese had discriminated against him because of his sexual orientation.

The decision followed three days of public hearings in Cardiff during April.

The tribunal found that the actions taken by the Bishop constituted unlawful direct discrimination under the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003. An additional charge of harassment was dismissed.

The Bishop had blocked the appointment of Mr Reaney, even though an eight-person interview panel had unanimously recommended him as the best-qualified candidate for the post from a short-list of four.

In rejecting Mr Reaney, who had stated in his application form that he was a homosexual, the Bishop was, in the tribunal’s view, doing so because of Mr Reaney’s sexual orientation, and was not (as the Bishop claimed) applying the same criteria that he would have used in the case of a heterosexual candidate.

Crucially, the Bishop had not accepted Mr Reaney’s assurance that he would continue to live a life consistent with the teaching of the Church.

The tribunal went on to say that, if necessary, they would also have found the diocese guilty of indirect discrimination, because of the Bishop’s stated policy of imposing a requirement of celibacy for lay people in employment within the Church.

The “religious exemption” clause that might otherwise have been claimed did not apply in this case. This was because the tribunal held that Mr Reaney was in fact living in accordance with the church policy that the Bishop required, and it was not reasonable for the Bishop to be unsatisfied that this was so.

Commenting at a press conference on Wednesday, Bishop Priddis said that he was “disappointed but not completely down. . . I still think that the decision I made was the right one.

“I regret lots of aspects of what happened, naturally. I regret the polarisation of view that tends to take place when these things happen. I took the decision after a great deal of thought and prayer and anguish.”

Bishop Priddis repeated his view that Mr Reaney had not been discriminated against on the grounds of his sexuality. “If there had been a stability of life, then I would have taken a different view, but there wasn’t,” he said. He dismissed suggestions he might resign saying: “It’s not that kind of issue.”

A diocesan statement said: “In the light of the tribunal decision, the Hereford diocesan board of finance will now again look at its recruitment literature to make clear the teaching and requirements of the Church in respect of the lifestyle of those in leadership roles.” The board of finance will take further legal advice before deciding whether or not to appeal the decision.

The Archbishops’ Council issued a brief statement that noted: “The broader issue raised by this case is whether there are posts, including some non-clergy posts, where the religious exemptions permitted under the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations can properly be applied by bishops and dioceses. The tribunal has helpfully confirmed that there are.”

John Reaney said, in a statement issued by his solicitors: “I am pleased that the tribunal agree that I have suffered discrimination and that I was right to bring my claim. I thank them for their decision. As a committed Christian, I did not bring this claim lightly, and remain sad that the Bishop acted in this way. All I ever wanted to do was to continue to use my skills in youth work for the diocese and the Church.”

The gay lobby group Stonewall, which financed the claim, said: “The tribunal has rightly made clear that the Church of England cannot discriminate against gay people with impunity. No one, not even a Bishop, is exempt from the law.”

 

The next step is to set a date for a remedy hearing, to determine what financial compensation should be paid to Mr Reaney, or whether any other actions should be required of the employer.

 

 

AN employment tribunal this week issued its judgment in the case brought against the Hereford diocesan board of finance by John Reaney (News, 20 April).

Mr Reaney succeeded in his claim that, in failing to appoint him to the post of youth worker, the Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Revd Anthony Priddis, and the Hereford diocese had discriminated against him because of his sexual orientation.

The decision followed three days of public hearings in Cardiff during April.

The tribunal found that the actions taken by the Bishop constituted unlawful direct discrimination under the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003. An additional charge of harassment was dismissed.

The Bishop had blocked the appointment of Mr Reaney, even though an eight-person interview panel had unanimously recommended him as the best-qualified candidate for the post from a short-list of four.

In rejecting Mr Reaney, who had stated in his application form that he was a homosexual, the Bishop was, in the tribunal’s view, doing so because of Mr Reaney’s sexual orientation, and was not (as the Bishop claimed) applying the same criteria that he would have used in the case of a heterosexual candidate.

Crucially, the Bishop had not accepted Mr Reaney’s assurance that he would continue to live a life consistent with the teaching of the Church.

The tribunal went on to say that, if necessary, they would also have found the diocese guilty of indirect discrimination, because of the Bishop’s stated policy of imposing a requirement of celibacy for lay people in employment within the Church.

The “religious exemption” clause that might otherwise have been claimed did not apply in this case. This was because the tribunal held that Mr Reaney was in fact living in accordance with the church policy that the Bishop required, and it was not reasonable for the Bishop to be unsatisfied that this was so.

Commenting at a press conference on Wednesday, Bishop Priddis said that he was “disappointed but not completely down. . . I still think that the decision I made was the right one.

“I regret lots of aspects of what happened, naturally. I regret the polarisation of view that tends to take place when these things happen. I took the decision after a great deal of thought and prayer and anguish.”

Bishop Priddis repeated his view that Mr Reaney had not been discriminated against on the grounds of his sexuality. “If there had been a stability of life, then I would have taken a different view, but there wasn’t,” he said. He dismissed suggestions he might resign saying: “It’s not that kind of issue.”

A diocesan statement said: “In the light of the tribunal decision, the Hereford diocesan board of finance will now again look at its recruitment literature to make clear the teaching and requirements of the Church in respect of the lifestyle of those in leadership roles.” The board of finance will take further legal advice before deciding whether or not to appeal the decision.

The Archbishops’ Council issued a brief statement that noted: “The broader issue raised by this case is whether there are posts, including some non-clergy posts, where the religious exemptions permitted under the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations can properly be applied by bishops and dioceses. The tribunal has helpfully confirmed that there are.”

John Reaney said, in a statement issued by his solicitors: “I am pleased that the tribunal agree that I have suffered discrimination and that I was right to bring my claim. I thank them for their decision. As a committed Christian, I did not bring this claim lightly, and remain sad that the Bishop acted in this way. All I ever wanted to do was to continue to use my skills in youth work for the diocese and the Church.”

The gay lobby group Stonewall, which financed the claim, said: “The tribunal has rightly made clear that the Church of England cannot discriminate against gay people with impunity. No one, not even a Bishop, is exempt from the law.”

 

The next step is to set a date for a remedy hearing, to determine what financial compensation should be paid to Mr Reaney, or whether any other actions should be required of the employer.

 

 

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