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Group disadvantage suffered by Christian who stayed with her husband following his conviction for sexual offences

Fri 03 Jun 2016

Pendleton v Derby County Council

Ms Pendleton, a committed Anglican Christian, had been working at Glebe Junior School as a teacher for 12 years before her dismissal in September 2013. She had an exemplary disciplinary record and was well respected. 

In January 2013, her husband was arrested and subsequently convicted of making indecent images of children and voyeurism and given a ten-month prison sentence. Ms Pendleton was in no way involved with the offences and there was no evidence she had any knowledge of then prior to the arrest. She did however, chose to remain with her husband despite the convictions because she believed “that her marriage vow was sacrosanct, having been made to God and being an expression of her religious faith”.

Despite her unblemished record and lack of knowledge of her husband’s offences, Ms Pendleton was dismissed from her teaching role on the grounds of conduct or some other substantial reason (SOSR). She subsequently brought a claim for unfair dismissal, wrongful dismissal and indirect religious discrimination. 

The unfair dismissal and wrongful dismissal claims were successful because the ET concluded the real reason for her dismissal was the fact that she had chosen to stand by her husband and not, in fact, her conduct, as the school had claimed. This decision did not justify dismissal and no fair process was followed in reaching it. 

However, her claim for religious discrimination failed. Whilst the ET agreed that the school had applied a provision, criterion or practice (PCP) in dismissing her, (namely “a policy of dismissing those who chose not to end a relationship with a person convicted of making indecent images of children and voyeurism”) and that her belief counted as a religious belief for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010, they concluded that she had not established a particular group disadvantage because anyone would have been dismissed in the same situation, regardless of religious belief. 

Ms Pendleton appealed to the EAT on the grounds that the ET had not considered the appropriate question in assessing her discrimination claim. Indirect discrimination occurs when there is a PCP which applies to everyone but has a worse effect on a particular group (in this case Christians) than it does on those who do not share the same beliefs. The EAT agreed with Ms Pendleton and concluded that “Comparing two groups, both comprising individuals in long-term, loving and committed relationships, facing the same difficult circumstances as arose in this case and given the choice between remaining with their husband/partner or their career but with one group also holding a religious belief in the sanctity of their marriage vows, I conclude the ET was bound to hold that the latter had an additional burden; a particular disadvantage.”

This case is important because it highlights that fact that in indirect discrimination, even if all are disadvantaged by a PCP , one group can still suffer an additional disadvantage, such as a religious crisis of conscience, as seen here.

For more information on this article please contact the Employment Team.    

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