Can a decision to dismiss a church minister because his marriage has broken down amount to marriage discrimination?
Yes, but not on the facts of this case, held the EAT in Gould v St John's Downshire Hill.
The Claimant, who was the vicar of an evangelical Christian church, was dismissed in August 2016. He alleged that the reason for his dismissal was the breakdown of his marriage, and brought a claim for unfair dismissal and direct marriage discrimination.
The tribunal dismissed the claim, finding that while the breakdown of his marriage was part of the background of events, it was not the reason for the dismissal, which was instead solely a breakdown of trust and confidence related to the Claimant's behaviour, which included his public manifestation of his marital difficulties, but not the breakdown of the marriage itself. The Claimant appealed.
The EAT held that if the tribunal had decided that the Claimant's behaviour would not have been a significant reason for his dismissal in materially similar circumstances where he was not married, or if a significant reason for the Claimant's dismissal was that the church Trustees had believed that the nature of marriage is such that a marital breakdown meant a vicar could not continue in office, the claim would have succeeded.
However, on the facts of this case, neither proposition was made out, and the appeal was dismissed.
Thanks to Richard Wayman of Pump Court Chambers for preparing this case summary.