A SOCIAL-HOUSING group based in Manchester acted in breach of
contract when it demoted one of its managers for posting a comment
on Facebook opposing gay marriage in churches, a judge has ruled.
But the High Court judge who made the decision said that "justice
has not been done", because he could award the manager only about
£100 in compensation.
Mr Justice Briggs said that he felt "real disquiet about the
financial outcome of this case", after finding in favour of Adrian
Smith, who was demoted by the Trafford Housing Trust, with a
40-per-cent reduction in his pay, after he described the
possibility of government plans to allow churches to host
civil-partnership ceremonies as "an equality too far".
The Trust said that Mr Smith's actions could have brought the
organisation into disrepute; that he had breached its
equal-opportunities policies by promoting religious and political
views; and that some staff members could have been offended by his
But Mr Justice Briggs said: "Mr Smith's postings about gay
marriage in church are not, viewed objectively, judgmental,
disrespectful, or liable to cause upset or offence. They are widely
held views, frequently to be heard on radio and television, or read
in the newspapers."
The judge said that by demoting Mr Smith, and docking his pay by
40 per cent, the Trust had effectively dismissed him and
re-employed him on a new contract. Established employment law was
that employees in such circumstances were entitled to receive only
the pay that would have been earned during the contractual-notice
period. In Mr Smith's case, this was 12 weeks, but the Trust had
phased in the reduction in pay, and so Mr Smith would be entitled
to an award of only about £100.
"The breach of contract the Trust committed was serious and
repudiatory," the judge said. "A conclusion that his damages are
limited to less than £100 leaves the uncomfortable feeling that
justice has not been done to him in the circumstances."
Mr Smith would have been able to claim "substantial
compensation" at an employment tribunal, the judge said, but, by
the time Mr Smith had found funds to fight the case, the
three-month deadline for action in the employment tribunal had
Mr Smith was supported by the Christian Institute's legal
defence fund. Responding to the judgment, the Institute's head of
communications, Mike Judge, read a statement on Mr Smith's behalf:
"I never did this for the money. I did this because there is an
important principle at stake."
Trafford Housing Trust said that it "fully accepted the court's
decision". "I have made a full and sincere apology to Adrian," the
chief executive, Matthew Gardiner, said. "This case has highlighted
the challenges that businesses face with the increased use of
social media, and we have reviewed our documentation and procedures
to avoid a similar situation arising in the future. Adrian remains
employed by the Trust."
The gay-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell welcomed the ruling.
"In a democratic society, Adrian has a right to express his point
of view, even if it is misguided and wrong," he said. "Freedom of
speech should only be limited or penalised in serious
circumstances, such as when a person incites violence against
others. Mr Smith's words did not cross this threshold.
"I wish Adrian supported gay marriages in churches, but he is
not a nasty homophobe. It was always absurd to suggest that he was
some kind of bigot. He's not."