Employment Tribunal Judgment makes a mockery of Equality laws?

Most employment lawyers have known that the Sexual Orientation and Religion or Belief Regulations have been on a collision course for some time. They met head on last week in the judgment of the Employment Tribunal in the case of Lillian Ladele against her employer, Islington Council.

Miss Ladele, a Registrar with the Council who objected to officiating at same sex civil partnership ceremonies on religious grounds, maintained that she had been harassed and subjected to detrimental treatment by her work colleagues who were offended by her views and argued that she should have been excused from presiding over same sex civil partnerships.

The judgement has rocked the gay community as to many it implies that religious beliefs are more important than gay rights, despite the developments in gay rights brought about by the Employment Equality (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2003. Of course, the Employment Equality (Religion and Belief) Regulations 2003 came into force on the same day.

So where does this leave our recently won gay rights? Many seem to believe that this has again consigned gay people to second class status. Surely public servants have a duty to serve all members of the public, regardless of their sexual orientation?

The late but welcome arrival of the Sexual Orientation Regulations appears to have been trounced by that the Tribunal’s apparent justification of Miss Ladele’s work-place prejudice. Unfortunately the Tribunal were only required to look at the treatment Miss Ladele suffered. This was not helped because the Council failed to accommodate her religious beliefs. The Sexual Orientation Regulations were not an issue in the Ladele case other than her prejudice forming the basis for her colleague’s treatment of her and her refusal to undertake a reasonable request in the course of her job.

However, with Islington Council considering an appeal and with the increase in the number of cases of this kind being brought, it is clear that the Ladele case has simply lit the touch paper. I would advise that we all stand well back.

Mark Nolan is an employment solicitor at Russell Jones & Walker in Manchester.

A free seminar on sexual orientation rights: Pink Law: Know Your Rights at Home, Work and Play, in conjunction with Stonewall will be held at the Malmaison Hotel, Manchester on 18th September 2008 from 6.30pm.

Pink Law - Know your rights at home, at work and at play from Russell Jones & Walker Solicitors

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