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Harassment on Grounds of Religion

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[Thanks to Saul Margo of Outer Temple Chambers for preparing this case summary]

Did the question 'What's happened to the fucking Pope?', shouted in a pressured newsroom, amount to harassment on grounds of religion of a Catholic sub-editor present at the time?

Obviously not, says Underhill J in Heafield v Times Newspaper Limited.

The employment tribunal found that the conduct was unwanted, but not done with the purpose of creating an adverse environment for Mr Heafield; if Mr Heafield experienced the environment as adverse, that was unreasonable of him. And it was not done on grounds of Mr Heafield's religion or belief.

Mr Heafield appealed, arguing that the tribunal had wrongly treated the speaker's purpose as conclusive that the words could not create an adverse environment; and that it had erred in relying on the speaker's motive in finding that the words had not been said 'on grounds of' Mr Heafield's religion. 

Underhill J emphatically rejected the first argument: the employment tribunal had not treated the speaker's purpose as conclusive, but had legitimately treated it as relevant.  He accepted that the relevance of motive in deciding the 'on grounds of' question was less straightforward. But since his conclusion on the first question disposed of the appeal, he did not need to deal with that argument.