Is discernment for ordination training an offer of employment? McCalla

In Professor Doreen McCalla v Lichfield Diocesan Board of Finance Inc & Anor [2022] UKET 1303655/2021, the claimant felt a call to ordination in the Church of England and went through its Discernment of Vocations Process between February 2016 and June 2021 but was rejected for training. She claimed discrimination in her treatment by the respondents and by others for whom she alleged the respondents were vicariously liable, both during the discernment process and in respect of its termination. She sued the Diocesan Board of Finance and the Bishop in his corporate capacity, initially claiming discrimination on grounds of sex, age and race [1-4], but by the time the claim came to trial it had been whittled down to a claim that either or both of the respondents had discriminated against her in the discernment process and its termination, in breach of s.55 (2) Equality Act 2010 [12].

That subsection states that an employment service-provider (A) must not, in relation to the provision of an employment service, discriminate against a person (B) (a) as to the terms on which A provides the service to B; (b) by not providing the service to B; (c) by terminating the provision of the service to B; or (d) by subjecting B to any other detriment. The provision of an employment service is defined in s.56.

The respondents resisted her claims and challenged the jurisdiction of the Tribunal on the basis that she was not an applicant for employment or a personal office within the meaning of the Act and neither respondent was an “employment service provider” for the purposes of the Act [5]. Critically, it was the decision of the sponsoring bishop  – in this case the Bishop of Shrewsbury – to send a candidate to a Bishops Advisory Panel; and she had decided not to sponsor Professor McCalla for a Panel assessment “because she did not discern the required vocation in the claimant” [46].

Employment Judge Algazy KC dismissed the claim. The purpose of the Discernment Process was to discern a spiritual vocation or calling by God ‘and was not to be equated to a trade, occupation or a personal office within the meaning of the Equality Act’ [47]. The “services” provided to Professor McCalla by the respondents up to the point of the termination of the Process were designed to assist with the process of discernment and selection for ordination training, and even if she had been sent to a Bishops Advisory Panel, sending her would not have been “even remotely, an offer of employment or office. Indeed, it is not even an offer of ordination” [49]. (As I would have assumed.)

Neither respondent was, nor had acted as, an employment service-provider in any of its material dealings with Professor McCalla up to the termination of her Discernment Process. Accordingly, the Tribunal did not have jurisdiction and her claim was dismissed [55].

Cite this article as: Frank Cranmer, "Is discernment for ordination training an offer of employment? McCalla" in Law & Religion UK, 24 January 2023, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2023/01/24/is-discernment-for-ordination-training-an-offer-of-employment-mccalla/

7 thoughts on “Is discernment for ordination training an offer of employment? McCalla

  1. Revd Calvin Robinson, having completed training, was last year refused ordination and employment in the Diocese of London and subsequently received ordination in an alternative or continuing Anglican Church.

    • Indeed: so far as I’m aware, he was ordained in the Free Church of England. It would never have occurred to me in a month of Sundays that acceptance for ordination training was in any way an offer of employment.

      • It does however mean that a candidate for office or employment (in the EqA sense which is broad) is without any remedy even if the Church did engage in horrendous discrimination. In respect to the ‘offer of employment’ comment not sure that directly matters: a job applicant is protected from discrimination in a recruitment process long before being an employee in an ordinary sense, but the applicant for ordination or other ministerial office outside CofE has no anti-discrimination protection … ever (I don’t see that any other non work parts of the EqA would be of benefit). I don’t think that can be right.

  2. Does this mean that there is a mechanism for keeping people with unwanted protected characteristics out of the priesthood with impunity? Or did the claimant plead the wrong cause of action, against the wrong defendant, in the wrong court?

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