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Marriage Vow is Sacred – Teacher Wins Religious Discrimination Ruling

In an important decision which emphasised everyone’s right to pursue their religious convictions, a teacher who considered her marriage vow sacrosanct, and stood by her husband despite his conviction for sex offences, won the right to compensation after she was discriminated against and unfairly dismissed.

The woman’s husband, who was a school headmaster, had been jailed after a jury found him guilty of voyeurism and making indecent images of children. She taught at a primary school and had devout Christian beliefs. She enjoyed an exemplary work record and there was no suggestion that she had known of her husband’s wrongdoing prior to his arrest. She was nevertheless dismissed after she refused to leave him in the light of the jury’s verdict.

An Employment Tribunal (ET) upheld her unfair dismissal claim on the basis that the school’s governing body had pre-judged the decision, that its investigation of the matter was inadequate and that it failed to take into account mitigating circumstances and alternatives to dismissal. Its decision was outside the band of reasonable responses to the woman’s stance. The ET, however, rejected the woman’s claim that she had suffered indirect discrimination because of her religious belief that her marriage vow was sacred, having been made with God.

In upholding her challenge to the latter decision, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) noted that she had in effect been required to choose between abandoning her marriage vow or losing her career. That amounted to a particular disadvantage that was attributable to her religious beliefs. There being only one possible answer to the disadvantage issue, the EAT found that she had suffered religious discrimination. The amount of her compensation had yet to be assessed.