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Christian Proselytising and Discrimination

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 Thanks to Dr John McMullen of Wrigleys Solicitors LLP for preparing this case summary

Was disciplinary action against an employee for improperly promoting Christianity to a junior colleague unlawful religious discrimination?

No, held the EAT in Wasteney v East London NHS Trust.

Ms Wasteney is a Christian. Complaints were made by a junior worker of Muslim faith about her behaviour. The complaints related to various interactions with Ms Wasteney which the complainant employee characterised as "grooming". This included Ms Wasteney's praying with the junior employee, the laying on of hands, giving her a book which concerned the conversion to Christianity of a Muslim woman and inviting her to various services and events at Ms Wasteney's church. This was unwanted attention.

These complaints were investigated and the Trust found Ms Wasteney guilty of serious misconduct by blurring professional boundaries and subjecting a junior colleague to improper pressure and unwanted conduct. She was given a formal warning. Ms Wasteney claimed unlawful religious discrimination and harassment.

The employment tribunal rejected those claims and the EAT agreed.

There was a distinction to be drawn between merely manifesting a religious belief, discipline for which would be unlawful discrimination. On the other hand, disciplining someone for improperly promoting religious belief in a way that was not consensual, and which took advantage of someone in a subordinate relationship, was not unlawful discrimination because of religion or belief.

Nor did Article 9.1 of the European Convention on Human Rights (freedom of thought, conscience and religion) assist Ms Wasteney. This was qualified by Article 9.2 (the rights and freedoms of others). So that did not, said the employment tribunal (with which the EAT agreed), give Ms Wasteney "a complete and unfettered right to discuss or act on her religious beliefs at work irrespective of the views of others or her employer".

In rejecting Ms Wasteney's appeal, the EAT considered that the employment tribunal approached its task correctly and provided proper and adequate explanation of its reasons.