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Home / News and Insights / Blogs / Employment Law / 310: Dismissal for speaking out in public against same-sex couple adoption

The Court of Appeal has ruled that an NHS Trust did not discriminate against a Christian non-executive director on religious grounds after he had spoken out in public against homosexuality and same-sex couple adoption (Page v NHS Trust Development Authority). Mr Page, a practising Christian, was a non-executive director of an NHS Trust. He was also a lay magistrate sitting on family cases involving adoption. Mr Page was subject to disciplinary action for expressing his belief during a magistrates’ hearing that it is not ‘normal’ for a child to be adopted by a single parent or same-sex couple. He subsequently gave media interviews in which he repeated this belief, expressed his views that homosexuality and same sex-marriage were wrong, and complained about the disciplinary action. Eventually Mr Page was removed from the magistracy, which led to separate legal proceedings.

When the Trust found out about the media interest in Mr Page, he was warned that publicly expressing such views could undermine confidence in the Trust’s commitment to the LGBT community. He was asked to inform the Trust before he gave any further interviews. However, Mr Page continued to give media interviews without advising the Trust. The Trust then decided not to renew his term of office as a non-executive director, and he brought claims of direct and indirect religious discrimination.

The Employment Tribunal dismissed Mr Page’s claims, finding that there was a clear non-discriminatory reason for the non-renewal of his contract: he had spoken to the media without informing the Trust, against its express instruction and in a way which was inappropriate for someone in his position. Mr Page’s appeal was dismissed by the EAT and he appealed again to the Court of Appeal, focusing on human rights issues.

The Court of Appeal has now also dismissed Mr Page’s appeal, rejecting the argument that his removal from office amounted to a breach of his right to freedom of religion under the European Convention of Human Rights. Although it was clear that his views about homosexuality stemmed from his Christianity, this link is not necessarily sufficient. The Court of Appeal ruled that Mr Page’s expression of his concerns about same-sex adoption and homosexuality did not amount to a manifestation of his religious belief. Even if it did, any limitation placed on the right to religion in this case was justified as being necessary and proportionate in the circumstances. It was relevant that Mr Page’s comments were likely to cause offence or to be misinterpreted, that they might deter LGBT patients from engaging with the Trust’s services, and that he had acted in an uncooperative way. The Court of Appeal also confirmed that there was no direct or indirect discrimination. Mr Page was removed for repeatedly speaking to the media inappropriately without first informing the Trust, and not because of his religious belief.

This case highlights the tensions which can arise where employees publicly express religious views which are offensive to other protected groups, such as the LGBT community. It is clear that in some circumstances, there must be limitations on the expression of religious beliefs, particularly where they are extremely sensitive or the employee is in a high-profile position. Assessing whether limitations are justified in a particular case can only be judged by considering all the relevant circumstances in order to strike a fair balance between the rights of the individual and the legitimate interests of their employer.

Mr Page, a practising Christian, was a non-executive director of an NHS Trust. He was also a lay magistrate sitting on family cases involving adoption. Mr Page was subject to disciplinary action for expressing his belief during a magistrates’ hearing that it is not “normal” for a child to be adopted by a single parent or same-sex couple. He subsequently gave media interviews in which he repeated this belief, expressed his views that homosexuality and same sex-marriage were wrong, and complained about the disciplinary action. Eventually Mr Page was removed from the magistracy, which led to separate legal proceedings.

When the Trust found out about the media interest in Mr Page, he was warned that publicly expressing such views could undermine confidence in the Trust’s commitment to the LGBT community. He was asked to inform the Trust before he gave any further interviews. However, Mr Page continued to give media interviews without advising the Trust. The Trust then decided not to renew his term of office as a non-executive director, and he brought claims of direct and indirect religious discrimination.

The Employment Tribunal dismissed Mr Page’s claims, finding that there was a clear non-discriminatory reason for the non-renewal of his contract: he had spoken to the media without informing the Trust, against its express instruction and in a way which was inappropriate for someone in his position. Mr Page’s appeal was dismissed by the EAT and he appealed again to the Court of Appeal, focusing on human rights issues.

The Court of Appeal has now also dismissed Mr Page’s appeal, rejecting the argument that his removal from office amounted to a breach of his right to freedom of religion under the European Convention of Human Rights. Although it was clear that his views about homosexuality stemmed from his Christianity, this link is not necessarily sufficient. The Court of Appeal ruled that Mr Page’s expression of his concerns about same-sex adoption and homosexuality did not amount to a manifestation of his religious belief. Even if it did, any limitation placed on the right to religion in this case was justified as being necessary and proportionate in the circumstances. It was relevant that Mr Page’s comments were likely to cause offence or to be misinterpreted, that they might deter LGBT patients from engaging with the Trust’s services, and that he had acted in an uncooperative way. The Court of Appeal also confirmed that there was no direct or indirect discrimination. Mr Page was removed for repeatedly speaking to the media inappropriately without first informing the Trust, and not because of his religious belief.

This case highlights the tensions which can arise where employees publicly express religious views which are offensive to other protected groups, such as the LGBT community. It is clear that in some circumstances, there must be limitations on the expression of religious beliefs, particularly where they are extremely sensitive or the employee is in a high-profile position. Assessing whether limitations are justified in a particular case can only be judged by considering all the relevant circumstances in order to strike a fair balance between the rights of the individual and the legitimate interests of their employer.

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