78: Employment Tribunal rejects claim of religious discrimination by Christian opposed to same-sex adoption
In Page v NHS Trust Development Authority, an Employment Tribunal has dismissed a claim of religious or belief discrimination by a Christian non-executive director who had been removed from office after publicising his opposition to same-sex adoption in the national media.
Mr Page served as a non-executive director of the Kent and Medway NHS and Social Care Partnership Trust, and also sat as a lay magistrate. He is a devout Christian who believes that it is in the best interests of every child to be brought up by a mother and a father, and is therefore against adoption by same-sex couples.
Mr Page was issued with a reprimand in relation to a magistrates’ case involving same-sex adoption after he was found to have been influenced by his religious beliefs. He subsequently gave interviews to local and national media, challenging the reprimand and re-stating his views. The Trust’s Chairman made it clear to him that expressing his personal views in this way could undermine confidence in the Trust’s commitment to equality, particularly within the LGBT community. However, Mr Page continued to engage with the media, even after he was removed as a magistrate for serious misconduct. Following disciplinary proceedings, the Trust concluded that it was not in the best interests of the health service for Mr Page to continue as a non-executive director. This was due largely to his highly public response to his removal from the magistracy; the negative impact this could have on the confidence of NHS staff, patients and the public; and his lack of personal responsibility and insight into the impact of his actions.
Mr Page brought several Employment Tribunal claims including direct religious or belief discrimination. The Tribunal accepted that his belief that it is always in the best interests of a child to be brought up by a mother and a father satisfied the wide interpretation given to ‘belief’ under the Equality Act 2010. However, the Tribunal held that he was not removed because of his religion, or because of his personal beliefs on same-sex adoption. He was removed because he had accepted invitations to appear on national television and other media without informing the Trust, despite specific requests to do so, and because he was unwilling to distinguish between his personal views and what was appropriate for a senior NHS professional to say to the media. The Tribunal rejected Mr Page’s argument that his religious views could not be distinguished from the manner in which he chose to express them.
This case shows the importance of distinguishing between a religious belief and the inappropriate promotion of that belief. Employers should ensure that they have a clear up-to-date policy setting out the procedure for employees and directors when making public comments, including obtaining permission in advance where necessary and the consequences of non-compliance. Mr Page has indicated that he intends to appeal the judgment and is supported by Christian Concern.