Is co-religionist discrimination a thing?
- By James Ferguson
The Court of Appeal in Belfast recently heard an appeal in a case that included elements of religious discrimination by a co-religionist.
The Appellant won £27 million on the lottery in 2013.
In March 2016, she employed the Claimant, whom she had known for some three years, as an ‘Assistant’. His role involved attending meetings, general administrative duties and general labouring.
The Claimant, who had “significant personal issues that affected his health and wellbeing”, had previously been unemployed for some time, received benefits and living in rented accommodation. A formal contract of employment was provided in May 2016.
In June 2016, the Claimant moved into a house owned by the Appellant. He asked for a formal tenancy agreement to allow him to continue to claim a rent allowance from the Housing Executive. This was never provided.
The Claimant was known to be a devout Catholic, attending Mass every day. He had several religious statues in his home. The Appellant was a non-practising Catholic who gave evidence that she had “divorced the Pope”.
The Appellant retained a key to the house.
Shortly after he moved in, the Claimant came home from work to find one of his statues had been moved. He then received a text message from the Appellant: “Did you like where I left your silly person?” This was the first in a series of incidents. A pattern emerged of the Appellant entered his home when he was out at work, often with two other women, without his knowledge or consent, and interfering with his personal effects.
She documented this by sending him photographs including:
a photograph of the Virgin Mary lying on the floor of the claimant’s house, along with his personal documents removed from a drawer;
a photograph of the Virgin Mary statue with a cigarette in its arms and a glass of whiskey in front of it;
a photograph of a teddy bear lying on top of the Virgin Mary, accompanied by a text message saying ‘the puppet you worship is no longer a virgin’;
a photograph of a statue of Padre Pio (a Roman Catholic Saint) lying on top of the Virgin Mary in a clearly sexual way.
After the “whiskey incident”, the Claimant asked the Appellant not to enter the house again. She responded by shouting: “I pay your f[******] wages, not some make believe puppet”. Further, the Appellant complained that he “was always running to Mass” and that he would have to choose between her and God.
On the question of sex discrimination, she constantly berated him for being male and opined that “all men are bastards”.
It was the Appellant’s case that this was “just a bit of banter between friends” and that he had consented to her entering the house as she had needed to use the washing machine. Interfering with his personal effects was “just three girls having a laugh”.
On 24 June 2016, the Claimant had a text exchange with Appellant:
[A] you are f[*****] Paddy….. Get back up to the old house, you will need to sign back on.
[C] Am I sacked or something?
[C] I never did nothing wrong
[A] Yes u did now go away.
The Claimant took this to mean that he was dismissed.
The Appellant contended that he was redundant because “there simply wasn’t any work for him to do” and so “he simply didn’t turn up for work”. This contention was not born out by her oral evidence where the Tribunal found her:
“…to be a very unsatisfactory witness. She presented as volatile and aggressive during the hearing, and she repeatedly contradicted herself, not only during her own oral evidence, but also as between her oral evidence and her written statement…”.
The Court of Appeal upheld the conclusion of the Fair Employment Tribunal that the Appellant had discriminated against the Claimant on the grounds of his gender and religious beliefs.
There was an award for injury to his feelings of £30,000.
Both parties to this case would be perceived to be “Catholic” by varying degrees. The relevant consideration, however, was whether the Claimant was treated less favourably on the grounds of his religious beliefs, irrespective of the background of the Appellant. The Fair Employment Tribunal was satisfied that he was. The Court of Appeal was satisfied that he was.
Add “all men are bastards” to the mix and the outcome to this case was no lottery.
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