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Belief Discrimination

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Was it discriminatory for a theatre to dismiss a Christian actress from a lesbian role after online posts about her belief that homosexuality was sinful become public?

No, held the EAT in Omooba v Michael Garret Associates

The Claimant was a Christian. She was due to play the lead role in the Respondent's production of The Color Purple, a play based on the book by Alice Walker. The book depicts a romantic relationship between two women. The play proposed to include the lesbian relationship. The Claimant was, at the relevant time, unaware of this.

Before rehearsals started, a comment that the Claimant had posted on Facebook some years previously calling homosexuality sinful and urging Christians to stick to their beliefs was retweeted. Following the retweet, the Respondent dismissed her. 

The Claimant claimed religion or belief discrimination, harassment and breach of contract. She acknowledged that, after reading the script following her dismissal, she would not have played the role.
The tribunal concluded that, although her beliefs (applying the criteria from Grainger v Nicholson) ‘scrape[d]’ over the threshold of being protected, her claims should fail.

The Claimant appealed.

The EAT, rejecting the appeal, agreed with the tribunal’s conclusions. In terms of direct discrimination, the Claimant was not dismissed because of her expression of her belief but because of the effect of the adverse publicity from its retweet on the cast, the audience, the reputation of the producers and the commercial success of the production. The tribunal had been entitled to reach this conclusion.

In terms of harassment, although the Claimant experienced the act of her dismissal by the theatre as being ‘hostile’, the tribunal was entitled to conclude that it was not reasonable for the conduct to have had that effect. She was aware of the seriousness of the situation and the issues facing the Respondent.

The EAT also agreed that the Claimant’s breach of contract claim should fail. She had been paid her full performance fee but, even if she had not, the fact that she had stated that she would not have performed the role once she had read the script meant that she suffered no loss in any event.