Gianna's direct religion or belief discrimination case

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Direct religion or belief discrimination at work

Direct religion or belief discrimination is where you are treated less favourably because of your religion or belief than someone without your religion or belief would be treated at work.

An example of direct discrimination because of religion or belief work would be:

An accountant who is Muslim is denied a managerial role due to the constant “breaks” they take in order to pray.

There have been numerous Employment Tribunal cases that make a claim for direct religion or belief discrimination. We’ll look at one such claim below.

The background

This case was brought against a Jewish nursery after Gianna worked as a team leader from 2012 until she was dismissed in 2016.

The nursery was affiliated to the Chabad Lubavitch Hasidic movement and ran in accordance with ultra-orthodox Chabad principles.

Gianna and her boyfriend attended a BBQ hosted by the synagogue affiliated with the nursery, where several parents of the nursery’s children as well as a director were also present.

Her boyfriend mentioned to the director that he lived with Gianna, despite the fact that they weren’t married. Following the BBQ, a meeting was held where she was asked to confirm that she wasn’t living with her boyfriend.

The purpose of the meeting was to inform the children’s parents about Gianna’s living situation. However, they had expressly wanted her to lie as they felt cohabitation before marriage was wrong.

When Gianna refused to lie, she was then invited to a disciplinary hearing for allegations that she was living with her boyfriend.

The nursery said that it was coming under pressure from parents, who were threatening to remove their children from the nursery. As her living situation was having a detrimental impact on the nursery, Gianna was dismissed.

The claimant was dismissed and later brought claims to the employment tribunal (ET) for direct discrimination and harassment related to her sex.

Gianna brought claims for direct sex discrimination, direct and indirect religion discrimination, and harassment based on sex in the Employment Tribunal.

The result

Her claims were originally successful. The Tribunal found that she had been dismissed because she did not live according to the nursery’s religion and refused to lie about it, not because her actions led to the nursery failing.

However, the nursery appealed the decision where the Employment Appeal Tribunal had different findings.

Gianna’s sex discrimination claim was upheld as the Tribunal felt that her gender had a significant influence over their handling of the matter. They did not believe a male employee would have been treated this way.

But, they did overturn the direct and indirect religion discrimination claims. They found that Gianna had not been discriminated against due to her religion. It was the nursery’s religion that had been the deciding factor about her dismissal.

The purpose of the Equality Act is to protect those with a protected characteristic from suffering a less favourable treatment at work. It doesn’t offer the same protection if the employer discriminates against an employee based on their own protected characteristic.

In Gianna’s case, the nursery’s religion would prevent any employee from cohabiting with a partner before marriage, regardless of the employee’s religious beliefs.

She was ultimately awarded compensation for her sex discrimination claim.

Important things to remember about this case

The Equality Act protects you against any form of discrimination as it relates to a protected characteristic. However, your claim must provide evidence that you suffered less favourable treatment than another employee in the same situation. If any employee can suffer from the same treatment, regardless of a protected characteristic, a Tribunal could rule in favour of your employer.

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