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Dismissal for distasteful LGBTQ+ sermon

An Employment Tribunal (ET) has rejected a claim brought by a school chaplain who claimed he had suffered religion or belief discrimination.

The claim was brought in the ET following a large number of complaints from the Respondent’s staff and school pupils regarding a sermon delivered by the chaplain, in which he advised pupils that they did not have to accept LGBT+ “ideologies” if it caused a conflict with their Christian beliefs and encouraged them to make up their own minds.

Following previous sermons on sexual orientation and gender identity, the chaplain had been instructed not to discuss these sensitive topics within the chapel as there was no possibility for discussion with the students. Dealing with them in chapel, with no opportunity for discussion or challenge, risked distress and psychological harm to vulnerable LGBT+ students coming to terms with their sexual identity. 

The chaplain went against his employer’s instructions and delivered the sermon anyway, which resulted in the chaplain being dismissed for gross misconduct. Following an appeal against his dismissal, the chaplain was reinstated but was then later made redundant.

The chaplain subsequently issued claims of religion and belief discrimination, harassment, and unfair dismissal; however, these claims failed. The ET held that he had not been discriminated against because of his religion or belief, but because of his distasteful explanation of them. The Respondent had acted reasonably as the chaplain had acted in contradiction to his safeguarding duties and the school’s statutory duties to students.

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Employee was dismissed and claim was out of time.

In a recent case, Cyxtera Technology UK Ltd had sent its employee, Mr Meaker a without prejudice letter on 5 February 2020 stating that his employment would mutually terminate on 7 February 2020 by reason of capability. Enclosed with this letter was a settlement agreement. Mr Meaker rejected the settlement offer and subsequently brought a claim for unfair dismissal. The tribunal dismissed the case on account of Mr Meaker presenting the claim out of time and did not grant an extension of time.

Mr Meaker appealed, arguing that his employment was terminated on 14 February 2020 (the date he received payment of his PILON and accrued untaken holidays), and he was therefore in time to bring his claim. The EAT held that the without prejudice letter sent to Mr Meaker on 5 February 2020 did amount to a dismissal as, amongst other reasons, it had not come out of the blue (termination had been discussed between Mr Meaker and the Respondent on 20 January 2020) and it clearly communicated when his termination would occur. In reviewing Mr Meaker’s argument, the EAT upheld the tribunal’s decision not to allow for an extension of time to present his claim as it was not reasonable for him to consider that his employment had not terminated on 7 February 2020.