AN EMPLOYEE who was dismissed for manifesting her religion in an
inappropriate manner, which upset fellow employees, had not been
subjected to unlawful discrimination on the grounds of her
religious beliefs, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) ruled when
it upheld a decision of the Employment Tribunal.
The EAT, however, which is a court of record whose decisions set
a precedent that other courts must follow, said that there was no
clear dividing line in principle between the right to hold a belief
and the right to manifest it, and that each case depended on its
Anna Grace was employed as a nursery manager at Places for
Children, in Islington, London, from 28 February 2011 to 16
November 2011, when she was dismissed.
The reasons given were: that she had held an unauthorised
training session for staff members which gave rise to complaints;
that Ms Grace's reaction to a pregnant staff-member's dream had
frightened that staff member into believing that she would have a
miscarriage; and that Ms Grace had warned another member of staff
that something was going to happen in the nursery, and that that
had left the staff member uneasy and afraid.
Ms Grace said that she had been subjected to unlawful
discrimination because of a protected characteristic, namely, her
religion, and she sought compensation of £500,000. She alleged that
she had been told that it was not company policy for her to hold
Bible sessions with those who had consented to it, and that it was
unsuitable to have discussions and conversations about God with
staff in the workplace.
The employers denied the allegations, and said that they had
told Ms Grace that they were under a duty to afford a time and
place for individuals to pray, but not to facilitate group
prayer-sessions, and had not said that they were opposed to groups
meeting to discuss the Bible. Further, the employers did not have a
policy of restricting the times when staff could discuss religious
matters during their break.
The Employment Tribunal concluded that Ms Grace "was not treated
as she was because of her religion, but rather because of the way
in which she manifested . . . it".
Ms Grace appealed to the EAT, which agreed with the Employment
Tribunal's judgment, but emphasised that that judgment should not
be read as drawing a distinction in principle between holding a
religious belief and manifesting it.
Article 9 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human
Rights and Fundamental Freedoms recognises both the absolute right
to religious freedom and the qualified right to manifest religion.
Both rights are referred to in the Code of Practice 2011 issued by
the Equality and Human Rights Commission.
The EAT agreed that there was no clear dividing line between
holding a belief and manifesting a belief, and that an unjustified
unfavourable treatment because an employee had manifested his or
her religion could amount to unlawful discrimination. A careful
examination of the facts was required.
If the reasons of the Employment Tribunal were to be read as
drawing a clear dividing line between holding a belief and
manifesting it, the EAT would not agree. The Employment Tribunal's
reasons were not to be read in that sense, however.
In Ms Grace's case, she had manifested her religion in a way
that was inappropriate, and which upset members of staff. So the
dismissal was not for an impermissible reason. The Employment
Tribunal had reached its conclusion for sustainable reasons, the