Discrimination - Religion or Belief

A committed Spiritualist has failed in his attempt to persuade the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) that his dismissal from the post of Special Constabulary Trainer was unlawful discrimination under the Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 (Power v Greater Manchester Police Authority).

Alan Power started work for the Greater Manchester Police Authority on 6 October 2008. Shortly afterwards, his employer received complaints from two separate police training establishments, where he had volunteered his services as a role player prior to commencing his employment, concerning his behaviour and unhelpful attitude. A subsequent investigation revealed that Mr Power had provided other police forces with CDs and posters that were not considered compatible with his employment as they related to his personal interest in Spiritualism rather than to police business. His employment was terminated with immediate effect.

A preliminary hearing established that Mr Power’s beliefs did fall within the definition of a religious or philosophical belief for the purposes of protection under the Regulations. However, the Employment Tribunal (ET) found that the main reason he was dismissed was not because he held the protected belief but because his previous conduct as a volunteer indicated that he was not suitable to train young police officers. A contributing factor was the delivery of the posters and CDs which, although related to his belief in Spiritualism, constituted an unacceptable way of expressing his belief.

Mr Power appealed on the ground that his religious belief had, at least in part, contributed to the decision to dismiss him and he was therefore a victim of unlawful discrimination.

The EAT dismissed the appeal. In reaching its decision, the ET had followed the approach taken in earlier religious discrimination cases that a distinction can be drawn between treatment on the ground of a person’s belief and on the ground of a manifestation of that belief. In general, Tribunals have been unsympathetic to those who have sought to claim that discrimination has occurred where they have tried to promulgate their religion or beliefs at work.

For example, in Chondol v Liverpool City Council, the EAT found that a Christian social worker had been dismissed because he was in breach of his employer’s prohibition on the over-promotion by social workers of their personal religious beliefs, not because of the beliefs themselves. In Ladele v London Borough of Islington, the EAT held that the ET was entitled to draw a distinction between less favourable treatment on the ground of an employee’s religion, which would be unlawful, and treatment on the ground that he or she was improperly foisting their religious belief on users of the service, which would not. In McFarlane v Relate Avon Ltd., the EAT found that the fact that the motivation for Mr McFarlane’s conduct may have been his wish to manifest his religious belief did not mean that his belief was the reason for his employer’s action.

In this case, the ET was entitled to find that the reason for Mr Power’s dismissal was, in part, the manifestation of his spiritual beliefs by way of the material he had earlier distributed, not the fact of his beliefs.

The Regulations have now been superseded by the Equality Act 2010, which consolidates much pre-existing discrimination into a single Act. Click here for guidance on the Equality Act.

The contents of this article are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article.

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