Gender, religious belief and discrimination in service provision

On Sunday, there were various media reports that a Southampton-based printer, Nigel Williams, had refused to produce business cards for Joanne Lockwood, a trans woman who works as a transgender diversity consultant; the reason stated for this refusal was that Mr Williams did not want to promote a cause that he felt might harm his fellow Christian believers.

According to the report in The Sunday Times (£), Ms Lockwood had met Mr Williams at a business networking event in September and e-mailed him three weeks later to inquire if he was interested in producing cards for her consultancy. He declined, while making it clear that he would be happy to print material for her if it was for other ventures. Also according to The Sunday Times, he wrote:

“The new model of diversity is used (or misused) to marginalise (or indeed discriminate against) Christians in their workplaces and other parts of society if they do not subscribe to it. Although I’m quite sure you have no intention of marginalising Christians it would weigh heavily upon me if through my own work I was to make pressure worse for fellow Christians.”

Comment

The BBC subsequently reported, on Monday, that “Ms Lockwood said she would not be pursuing legal action” – but I can’t help wondering, “But what if she were to sue?”

The situation is by no means as clear-cut as in Lee v McArthur & Ors [2016] NICA 29, aka the “Gay Cake” affair, which is still to be considered by the Supreme Court: in that case, there was a contract – Mr Lee had placed an order for the cake which had been accepted and then cancelled – while in the case of Mr Williams and Ms Lockwood, she had merely asked if he might do the work and he refused.

On the other hand, the Equality Act 2010 states that gender reassignment is a protected characteristic (s7) and s 29 (Provision of services, etc.) declares that:

“(1) A person (a ‘service-provider’) concerned with the provision of a service to the public or a section of the public (for payment or not) must not discriminate against a person requiring the service by not providing the person with the service.

(2) A service-provider (A) must not, in providing the service, discriminate against a person (B)—

(a) as to the terms on which A provides the service to B;

(b) by terminating the provision of the service to B;

(c) by subjecting B to any other detriment.”

Might Mr Williams’s refusal be protected by Article 9 ECHR? Or might it constitute “any other detriment” to Ms Lockwood? My suspicion is that the answers to those questions are “no” and “yes” respectively; but perhaps things will become clearer after the UKSC has ruled on Lee v McArthur.

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Gender, religious belief and discrimination in service provision" in Law & Religion UK, 21 October 2017, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2017/10/21/gender-religious-belief-and-discrimination-in-service-provision/

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