Dismissal for failure to break up was discriminatory

02 June 2016

Ms Pendleton was a teacher, married to the headteacher of another school. She had an exemplary record of service, before being dismissed due to standing by her husband (the headteacher of another school).

Ms Pendleton was a teacher, married to the headteacher of another school. She had an exemplary record of service.

Her husband was convicted of making indecent images of children and voyeurism. Ms Pendleton decided that, although she didn’t condone what her husband had done, she wouldn’t leave him; she was a practising Anglican Christian and her marriage vows were important to her. She was eventually dismissed for having ‘...chosen to maintain a relationship with [her] partner who has been convicted of making indecent images of children and voyeurism.’ This contravened the ethos of the school.

She won her unfair dismissal claim because of various failings. But the tribunal dismissed her claim for indirect religion or belief discrimination. While it found that she had a genuine belief that her marriage vow was sacrosanct, and the school had applied a provision, criterion or practice (PCP) (dismissing those who chose not to end a relationship in these circumstances), it held that no particular disadvantage had been shown. She would have been dismissed even if she hadn’t held that religious belief.

Ms Pendleton appealed and won; there had been indirect discrimination, said the Employment Appeal Tribunal. The tribunal had found that Ms Pendleton had this religious belief in the sanctity of marriage. The PCP that the school applied was intrinsically liable to disadvantage a group that shared that belief, and it had subjected her to a disadvantage. Her belief in the sanctity of marriage vows placed her under an additional burden to those who might have been in the same situation but who didn’t hold that belief. That was a particular disadvantage, given the ‘crisis of conscience’ that she faced.


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