We do not usually cover first-instance employment tribunal judgments on this blog, but two cases handed down in the last three weeks – Forstater v. CGD Europe and Bailey v. Stonewall Equality Ltd and Garden Court Chambers – have attracted so much attention that we feel an exception must be made. Both cases involved women with ‘gender critical’ beliefs who faced hostility in their workplaces after expressing them. Both succeeded in their claims of direct discrimination and victimisation on grounds of belief under the Equality Act 2010. Although neither of the cases sets a binding precedent for other courts or tribunals, they contain interesting legal analysis and comment about the importance of freedom of expression and freedom of belief in the context of work which is of wider significance.
The judgment in Forstater v CDG Europe UKEAT/0105/20/JOJhas forced the courts yet again to grapple with the transgender debate. We have already seen the judiciary face up to the challenging issues of whether children with gender dysphoria can consent to receiving puberty blockers (see recent decision in Bell v Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust  EWCA Civ 1363). In the present case, the issue was whether the Claimant’s belief that biological sex is real, important, immutable, and not to be conflated with gender identity was a “philosophical belief” within the meaning of section 10 of Equality Act 2010 (“EqA”).
The claim arose from the Claimant’s statements on Twitter, which manifested her beliefs on the immutability of sex. Her colleagues found these offensive and complained. Her consultancy contract was not renewed, and she brought proceedings before the Central London Tribunal on the basis that she had been discriminated against because of her belief that sex, rather than gender, is fundamentally important and that there are no circumstances in which a trans woman is a woman or a trans man is a man. At a preliminary hearing, the Judge held that the Claimant’s belief was not a “philosophical belief” within the meaning of section 10 EqA.
Gilham (Appellant) v Ministry of Justice (Respondent)  UKSC 44 – read judgment
The UK Supreme Court has unanimously granted an appeal by a district judge against the Court of Appeal’s decision that she did not qualify as a “worker” under the Employment Rights Act 1996 (the “1996 Act”), and therefore could not benefit from the whistleblowing protections it conferred.
In reaching its judgment, the Court held that the failure to extend those whistleblowing protections to judges amounted to a violation of the appellant’s right under Article 14 ECHR not to be discriminated against in her enjoyment of the Convention rights (in this case, her right to freedom of expression under Article 10 ECHR).
Karia, R (on the application of) v Leicester City Council (Sir Stephen Silber, acting as High Court Judge)  EWHC 3105 (Admin) (30 September 2014)- read judgment
In a robust judgment Sir Stephen Silber has asserted that neither the ordinary laws of judicial review, nor the Equality Act nor the Human Rights Act require the courts to micro-manage the decisions of public authorities. Indeed the latter two statutory powers are not designed as a back door into a merits review of a decision that is restricted to the court’s review of the legality of a public sector decision.
Background facts and law
The claimant, a 101 year old woman of Gujarati descent, challenged the decision to close the care home which she has occupied since 1999. Her grounds of challenge were threefold:
1. that the Council had failed to take account of material issues of fact relating to the present and future levels of demand for residential care one provision
2. that it had reached its decision without due regard to the need under the Equality Act 2010 to avoid unlawful discrimination in the provision of services
3. and it had failed to take into account the impact of the closure on the claimant’s Article 8 rights
She also complained that she had a legitimate expectation of a home for life at Herrick Lodge and that the Council had not considered whether her needs could be met in alternative placements.
Although the judge was at pains to stress that as this was a judicial review application, it was not for him to assess the merits of the Council’s decision, merely its legality. Having done so, he concluded that the Council had not acted irrationally, nor had it paid due regard to the need to advance equality of opportunity.
It is not for the Court to determine whether proper weight has been given to a factor where as here there has been proper appreciation of the potential impact of the decision on equality issues.
As a brief update to my post from last week. The Tricycle Theatre and the UK Jewish Film Festival have settled their differences after an agreement was struck to end the theatre’s refusal to host the festival.
Despite its previously robust defence of the decision, the Tricycle appears to have entirely relented on the issue of Israeli Embassy funding. A joint statement has been published, stating amongst other things:
‘Some weeks ago the UKJFF fell out, very publicly, with the Tricycle over a condition imposed by the Tricycle regarding funding. This provoked considerable public upset. Both organisations have come together to end that. Following lengthy discussions between the Tricycle and UKJFF, the Tricycle has now withdrawn its objection and invited back the UK Jewish Film Festival on the same terms as in previous years with no restrictions on funding from the Embassy of Israel in London. The UKJFF and the Tricycle have agreed to work together to rebuild their relationship and although the festival is not able to return in 2014, we hope to begin the process of rebuilding trust and confidence with a view to holding events in the future.
Black and Morgan v. Wilkinson  EWCA Civ 820 – read judgment here.
The Court of Appeal recently dismissed an appeal by a Christian bed and breakfast owner, upholding the decision that she unlawfully discriminated against a gay couple by refusing to provide them with a double bedroom. However, the Master of the Rolls (head of the civil justice system) Lord Dyson expressed doubt about whether the previous binding decision of the Court of Appeal in the very similar case of Hall and Preddy v. Bull and Bull EWCA Civ 83, was correct, and the Court granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court.
This decision is the latest in a line of cases which have grappled with the ‘conflict of equalities’, many of which have concerned the potential clash between religious freedom and the prohibition on discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation. It raises difficult questions about how to reconcile competing rights or ‘protected characteristics’ under discrimination law, and it will be very interesting to see how the Supreme Court deals with this and the Preddy case when they are heard together in the autumn.
Yesterday’s much heralded equal pay ‘victory’ in the Supreme Court (see BBC Report) undoubtedly will be good news for the specific female claimants in the case who seek to vindicate their European Union rights to equal pay.
The female claimants do so by comparing their pay with male colleagues working in entirely distinct parts of the same local authority (being Dumfries and Galloway Council) but arguably on common terms and conditions of employment (often referred to as the ‘same employment’ test).
X(Appellant) v Mid Sussex Citizens Advice Bureau and another (Respondent)  UKSC 59 – read judgment
The Supreme Court has confirmed the Court of Appeal’s view that voluntary occupation does not attract the protections of the Equality Act or the Framework Directive.
The appellant had worked as a volunteer adviser for the Citizens’ Advice Bureau since 2006. In 2007 she claimed that she was asked to cease work in circumstances amounting to discrimination on grounds of disability. She sought to bring proceedings against the respondent but the Court of Appeal held that the Employment Tribunal had no jurisdiction to hear the case as she was a volunteer rather than an employee, and therefore fell outside the scope of protections against discrimination under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (now covered by the Equality Act 2010) and Directive 2000/78/EEC (“the Framework Directive”). See Isabel McArdle’s post on that decision here. Continue reading →
Macfarlane and others v United Kingdom (ECHR 329 (2012) – read press release
Tomorrow the Strasbourg Court will hear complaints in four applications that UK law has failed adequately to protect the applicants’ right to manifest their religion, contrary to Articles 9 (freedom of religion) and 14 (prohibition of discrimination). See our posts on these cases here and here, and in the related Preddy case here.
All four applicants are practising Christians who complain that UK law did not sufficiently protect their rights to freedom of religion and freedom from discrimination at work. Ms Eweida, a British Airways employee, and Ms Chaplin, a geriatrics nurse, complain that their employers placed restrictions on their visibly wearing Christian crosses around their necks while at work. Ms Ladele, a Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages, and Mr McFarlane, a Relate counsellor, complain about their dismissal for refusing to carry out certain of their duties which they considered would condone homosexuality. Their challenges to their consequent dismissal were rejected by the UK courts on the basis that their employers were entitled to refuse to accommodate views which contradicted their fundamental declared principles – and, all the more so, where these principles were required by law, notably under the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007.
The judgment is awaited with considerable anticipation: the National Secular Society and the Equality and Human Rights Commission have both filed intervening submissions under Rule 44 §3 of the Rules of the Court.
The late US law Professor Paul Miller reflected recently that Beethoven, Stephen Hawking and Elton John were examples of individuals whom, if they had been tested for serious genetic conditions at the start of their careers, may have been denied employment in the fields in which they later came to excel.
Earlier this month the Association of British Insurers announced the latest extension on the moratorium on the use of genetic test results for insurance purposes. But is this “Concordat” sufficient protection? Genetic technologies are becoming increasingly available and profound questions are arising in relation to life and health insurance and employability as genetic screening becomes cheaper and widespread.
The Trade Union Congress have sent me the full letter (download here) which Education Secretary Michael Gove sent to its leader Brendan Barber in relation to a complaint about seemingly homophobic booklets distributed to Roman Catholic schools in Lancashire. The letter which Mr Barber sent to Mr Gove is here.
I complained in this post that the excerpt of the response published by The Observer appeared to misunderstand the provisions of the Equality Act which apply to schools. I also said that the quote in the article could have been out of context. In short, it was. Here is the full paragraph, which presents a much fairer representation of the law:
Welcome back to the human rights roundup, your recommended weekly dose of human rights news. The full list of links can be found here. You can also find our table of human rights cases here and previous roundups here.
In the news
Religion and the State
Following on from last week’s ruling from the High Court that Christian prayers held before a council meeting were unlawful, the Court of Appeal this week upheld a ruling that two Christian hotel owners had discriminated against gay clients by not offering them a double room.
In yet other news, the Education Secretary Michael Gove is embroiled in a row concerning the distribution in schools of a booklet containing homophobic material. In response to complaints, Gove has insisted that the education provisions of the Equality Act 2010 do not extend to the content of the curriculum. For an analysis of why Gove is incorrect on this score, see Adam Wagner’s post.
Updated, 20 Feb 2012 | Following the news recently it would seem that the UK is convulsed by a raging battle between religious observers and, in the words of Baroness Warsi, militant secularists. On the same day, the High Court ruled that Christian prayers held before a council meeting were unlawful, and the Court of Appeal upheld the decision of the High Court that two Christian hotel owners had discriminated against gay clients by not offering them a double room.
Today’s spat, according to The Guardian, involves a letter sent to the Education Secretary Michael Gove by the Trade Union Congress leader “expressing alarm that a booklet containing “homophobic material” had been distributed by a US preacher after talks to pupils at Roman Catholic schools across the Lancashire region in 2010.” From the quotes provided in The Observer, the book sounds pretty offensive:
Currently, non-Scottish students from elsewhere in the UK and Northern Ireland have to pay tuition fees in Scotland, set to rise to up to £9,000 annually next year. However, Scottish students and those from other parts of the EU do not have to pay fees at all. Non-British EU students do not have to pay fees in Scotland due to EU law forbidding them from being treated differently to Scottish students.
The Commission for Equality & Human Rights has been ordered to pay costs of court proceedings to two members and a former member of the British National Party. Although the decision is a technical one relating only to costs of proceedings, it highlights the financial risks which must be borne by those seeking to police and enforce compliance with the requirements of human rights law. Continue reading →
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