Employment Appeal Tribunal: teacher dismissed from ultra-orthodox Jewish nursery for living with her boyfriend is not religious discrimination

Summary

The Employment Appeal Tribunal has held that dismissal of a nursery teacher, Ms De Groen, who worked in an ultra-orthodox nursery because she lived with her boyfriend was not discriminatory on the grounds of religion or belief. It was held that the reason was based on the nursery’s beliefs and Ms De Groen’s non-compliance with those beliefs. Therefore, dismissal was not deemed to be discriminatory. Gan Menachem v de Groen

Facts

Ms De Groen was a Jewish teacher at an ultra-orthodox nursery in North London that is run with ultra-orthodox Chabad principles. At a barbeque organised by a synagogue affiliated with the nursery, her boyfriend it revealed in the presence of parents and owners of the nursery that they lived together. This is in contravention of the beliefs of Ultra-Orthodox Jews.

In the first meeting, two of the Directors of the Nursery spoke to her in a meeting about the comment, asked her questions about her personal life expressing that co-habitation outside of marriage was wrong, having children outside of marriage was wrong and that time was passing for Ms De Groen to have children. She became upset and tearful at the meeting. She was asked to lie by confirming that she no longer lived with her boyfriend so that the Nursery could tell anyone concerned that this was what they had been informed. The Directors suggested that lying would provide an acceptable solution to the issue.

Two days later Ms De Groen requests a meeting with the Directors of the Nursery she refused to lie to the Directors, she asked for an apology and a promise that she would not be harassed. She had taken legal advice and referred to the possibility of an employment tribunal claim if matters could not be resolved with an apology.

A disciplinary hearing was set up and Ms De Groen was dismissed with payment in lieu of notice.

Outcome

The EAT held that the Employment Tribunal had incorrectly concluded that an employer acting because of its own religion or belief discriminated against its employees. There was no sufficient evidential basis for any conclusion that Miss De Groen was discriminated against because of her religion and belief. The Nursery acted according to their genuinely held beliefs and Miss De Groen’s non-compliance with those beliefs.

Implications for Employers

This judgment upholds the principles laid out in Lee v Ashers Baking Co Ltd. It reaffirms the position that acts based on a religious belief may not be discriminatory where a party acts on their own beliefs and the other party’s non-compliance with those beliefs rather than actions based on the other party’s beliefs. This is still a new concept within discrimination law, so employers must be cautious where there is a remote chance of discrimination and to seek legal advice. A claim for discrimination has no limit and is usually significant due to a claimant being able to claim an award for ‘injury to feelings’.

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