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Indirect Religious Discrimination and Marriage Vows

The recent case of Pendleton –v- Derbyshire County Council is a timely reminder that organisations must be extremely careful when dismissing an employee by association.

In this case Mrs Pendleton, a teacher of Anglican Christian faith was dismissed for refusing to leave her husband, a Headteacher, who had been convicted of making indecent images of children and voyeurism and sentenced to 10 months imprisonment. The basis for the dismissal was for Some Other Substantial Reason (SOSR).

Mrs Pendleton brought a claim in the tribunal for unfair dismissal and indirect religious discrimination on the basis that, given her religious faith she held the vows of marriage as sacrosanct, therefore the policy placed her and others of a similar faith at a disadvantage.

While in the first instance the Employment Tribunal (ET) rejected the argument of indirect religious discrimination this was overturned on appeal. The Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT) held that the school’s policy of dismissing someone who had chosen not to end a relationship with a convicted sex offender (a practice) did place a group (those holding a belief in the sanctity of marriage vows), at a particular disadvantage, in that Mrs Pendleton faced a crisis of conscious (which would have been faced by others of a similar belief).


This case highlights the dangers for an organisation’s failure to consider the impact that a Provision, Criterion or Practice (PCP) may have on someone with a protected characteristic (age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion and belief, sex and sexual orientation)i.e. in this instance the school failed to consider whether applying the PCP equally to believers and non-believers might particularly disadvantage believers, because the required conduct was contrary to their religious belief.

If you are considering implementing a new policy, or uncertain whether any of your policies would fall into the realms of being indirectly discriminatory then at SCE Solicitors we have a wealth of experience in dealing with issues arising from the Equality Act 2010.  If you would like to discuss issues relating to indirect discrimination, please contact me on 0113 350 4030 or at hello@scesolicitors.co.uk.

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SCE Solicitors is a boutique employment law and dispute resolution practice based in Leeds which advises clients nationwide.  Please note that the information in this blog is to provide information of general interest in a summary manner and should not be construed as individual legal advice. Readers should consult with SCE Solicitors or other professional counsel before acting on the information contained here. “

Samira Cakali

Samira Cakali is a pragmatic and approachable solicitor advocate with extensive contentious and non-contentious experience in the fields of employment law as well as civil litigation, within a range of commercial businesses from SME’s to multinationals as well as senior executives.

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