Does an employer discriminate by behaving inconsistently with religious values? – Keens-Betts

Can an employee claim direct or indirect discrimination on grounds of religion because she feels that her employer’s behaviour is inconsistent with what she understands to be “the Christian way of life”? That was one of the issues raised in Miss M Keens-Betts v The Anthony Gregg Partnership Ltd [2017] UKET 2208102/2016.

Miss Keens-Betts, a litigant in person, did not assert that she was treated any differently or worse than a non-Christian or non-religious person would have been treated. What she argued was that her employers’ poor behaviour was of itself inconsistent with religious values and that, because her employer knew of her religious values, she was particularly vulnerable to bullying because she felt obliged to “turn the other cheek” [14]. In her words:

“An environment of abuse and positive reciprocation is mutually exclusive. In fact, the only expression of reciprocation that could exist here is ‘an eye for an eye’. Therefore, Christian life and life at the Anthony Gregg Partnership are catastrophically incompatible … I have the right to raise the Christian standard as a recognisable and fundamental benchmark of common morality/decency in the UK … I believe the value of the Golden Rule of ‘Love They Neighbour’ is inherent in Government’s Policy. Therefore, it is directly relevant to employee treatment” [14].

In a preliminary hearing judgment, EmpIoyment Judge Lewis was not at all convinced:

“I do not believe this concept fits within any of the definitions in the Equality Act 2010. For harassment … the respondents’ conduct must be ‘related to’ religion. The conduct in this case was neutral. The fact that it might have particular adverse impact on a Christian or Catholic person does not mean the conduct was related to religion. In any event, I do not accept that the type of conduct alleged in this case would have any more adverse impact on a Christian / Catholic person than anyone else. Sadly, employees of all faiths and of no faith are likely to be distressed by poor employment practices and bullying behaviour.

For similar reasons, I do not believe the definitions of direct discrimination or indirect discrimination would apply. It is not direct discrimination because there is no evidence whatsoever that the respondents would have treated the claimant any differently if she had not been Christian / Catholic. It is not indirect discrimination, because there is no evidence – and I do not accept – that generalised bullying would put Christian / Catholic employees at a particular disadvantage compared with non-Christian / non-Catholic employees” [15 & 16].

He therefore struck out all the religious discrimination claims as having no reasonable prospect of success.

Comment

Whether “the Golden Rule of ‘Love They Neighbour’” is, in fact, inherent in the policy of any government – of whatever political stripe – is itself a highly-arguable proposition. But be that as it may, the fact that employees of a particular faith community are distressed by bullying behaviour does not discriminate against them on religious grounds, because a comparable group of non-religious employees would be equally distressed.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Does an employer discriminate by behaving inconsistently with religious values? – Keens-Betts" in Law & Religion UK, 1 June 2017, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2017/06/01/does-an-employer-discriminate-by-behaving-inconsistently-with-religious-values-keens-betts/

8 thoughts on “Does an employer discriminate by behaving inconsistently with religious values? – Keens-Betts

  1. I wonder why she chose to use religion to make her case?

    Surely if bullying is endemic in the company, then she should have chosen the route of first complaining via the Company scheme, and if not satisfied with the outcome, could then take the evidence to a tribunal. The wording suggests that she chose the route without any support. I wonder if she belonged to a trade union who could have made representations on her behalf or have advised her how to proceed to a tribunal.

    Being poorly advised might be the issue? I find it incredible that someone would pursue such a dodgy case via Religious Discrimination, and ‘turning the other cheek’ doesn’t mean that you have accept bullying or abuse, just because your religious beliefs tell you to do so. Rather a ‘passionate humility’, in Stephen Cherry’s words, would entail facing the bulling and abuse face on, because the issue is affecting others, not just one individual who happens to be an active Christian. And tribunal proceedings are not cheap either.

    • It seemed odd to me as well. But she was a litigant in person – presumably without advice – and it seems that she decided to chuck in everything but the kitchen sink.

  2. Reading paragraphs 12 and 14 suggest that the claimant had less than 2 year’s service, and therefore she could not claim for the alleged bullying. So I would surmise that she was trying a creative approach to make a claim without having to wait until she had 2 years’ service.

  3. Having now read the full judgment, it has become apparent that this woman was “trying it on” not only on the basis of alleged religious discrimination but also alleged age-related discrimination. She obviously feels aggrieved at her treatment by her employer but on just about every point of actual law she has failed to convince the tribunal.
    I seem to recall a saying about a person who insists on representing themselves in legal proceedings as having a fool for a client.
    So – too – it seems in this case, that saying is true.
    She should have taken independent legal advice. I think she did – and then ignored it.
    She brought this humiliating result upon herself.

  4. Part of the problem may be that there is no right to bring a free-standing claim of harassment/bullying in an Employment Tribunal. It either has to be linked to an Equality Act ‘protected characteristic’ eg race, sex, religion etc or it has to arise in a claim of unfair or constructive dismissal and so involves no longer being employed.

    Personally, I see no reason why the Equality Act definition of harassment shouldn’t be reworded to remove the reference to ‘protected characteristics’ and allow claims to deal with the simple question of whether someone is being bullied regardless of the reason why.

    • In the study of philosophy, some concepts are described as essentially contestable.
      What one person defines as bullying another may consider to be robust disciplining.
      Put simply: it is a matter of opinion – and opinions differ.
      Sex, sexuality, skin colour, professed beliefs, age, etc. are all objectively definable.
      These objective characteristics are relied upon when applying anti-discrimination law.
      It is said that bad cases make for bad laws.
      This particular case seemingly is a bad case.
      I would not extrapolate anything from it in terms of changes in the law.
      The person involved adopted a mind set which objective analysis found to be incorrect.
      That is all there is to say on this particular case.

      • Harassment and bullying are defined objectively in the law There is no need to add the Equality Act personal characteristics.

        • This from https://www.gov.uk/workplace-bullying-and-harassment:-
          ‘Workplace bullying and harassment
          Bullying and harassment is behaviour that makes someone feel intimidated or offended. Harassment is unlawful under the Equality Act 2010.
          Examples of bullying or harassing behaviour include:
          spreading malicious rumours
          unfair treatment
          picking on someone
          regularly undermining a competent worker
          denying someone’s training or promotion opportunities
          Bullying and harassment can happen:
          face-to-face
          by letter
          by email
          by phone
          The law
          Bullying itself isn’t against the law, but harassment is.
          This is when the unwanted behaviour is related to one of the following:
          age
          sex
          disability
          gender (including gender reassignment)
          marriage and civil partnership
          pregnancy and maternity
          race
          religion or belief
          sexual orientation
          What employees should do if they’re bullied or harassed
          Employees should see if they can sort out the problem informally first.
          If they can’t, they should talk to their:
          manager
          human resources (HR) department
          trade union representative
          If this doesn’t work, they can make a formal complaint using their employer’s grievance procedure. If this doesn’t work and they’re still being harassed, they can take legal action at an employment tribunal.
          They could also call the Acas (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) helpline for advice:
          Acas helpline
          Telephone: 0300 123 1100
          Textphone: 18001 0300 123 1100
          Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm
          Find out about call charges
          Acas has also produced a guidance leaflet on bullying and harassment.
          Download ‘Bullying and harassment at work: a guide for employees’ (PDF, 186KB)
          Employers’ responsibilities
          Employers are responsible for preventing bullying and harassment – they’re liable for any harassment suffered by their employees.
          Anti-bullying and harassment policies can help prevent problems.
          Acas has produced a booklet for employers, including advice on setting up a policy as well as how to recognise, deal with and prevent bullying and harassment.
          Download ‘Bullying and harassment at work: a guide for managers and employers’ (PDF, 164KB).’

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