A London childcare worker who was sacked after airing her views on homosexuality and marriage in answer to a question from a colleague, has won a discrimination claim against her former employer.
Sarah Mbuyi (31) was working at a nursery in West London where she developed a friendly relationship with a lesbian colleague. One day the colleague asked Miss Mbuyi whether she would be welcomed at church, and whether God would approve of her civil partnership and allow her to marry in church.
Miss Mbuyi explained that, “God is not okay with what you do” but that “everyone is a sinner and God offers forgiveness.” She also recalled saying, “God … loves you and says you should come to Him as you are.” But the other woman “became emotional and went off to report me to my manager.”
Within three days of the complaint, Miss Mbuyi was investigated and sacked for gross misconduct. She was told by her employers that her comments breached equality policies and that she had harassed her colleague.
Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, and represented by leading human rights barrister, Paul Diamond, Belgian-born Miss Mbuyi fought the dismissal. She submitted an internal appeal but this was dismissed. She then commenced a claim at the Watford Employment Tribunal on the grounds that she had been discriminated against because of her Christian belief that the practice of homosexuality is a sin, arguing that she had the right under EU law to enter into conversations with adult colleagues subject to the normal principles of engagement in speech.
In a decision published last week the Watford Employment Tribunal, chaired by Judge Broughton, found unanimously that Miss Mbuyi had been directly discriminated against because of her belief that homosexual practice is contrary to the Bible.
The Tribunal recognised that while the employer was “not anti-Christian” Miss Mbuyi had not been treated fairly and that the decision to sack her may have been made on “stereotypical assumptions about her and her beliefs”
Miss Mbuyi’s belief was described by the tribunal as one which is “worthy of respect in a democratic society, not incompatible with human dignity, and not in conflict with the fundamental rights of others”.
The judgement also said that the employer’s policy of prohibiting employees “expressing adverse views on homosexuality and/or describing homosexuality as a sin” would have a “disparate impact on Christians holding similar views to Miss Mbuyi on the biblical teachings on practising homosexuality. That is not merely because a significantly higher proportion of Christians would hold such views but also because many evangelical Christians feel their faith compels them to share it.”
In summary the Employment Tribunal found that:
* Miss Mbuyi’s colleague had clearly indicated that she had first expressly brought up her sexuality in conversation with Sarah
* She was the first to raise the issue of Miss Mbuyi’s church
* She asked if she would be welcome in that church, and
* She asked what Miss Mbuyi believed God thought about her living arrangements
* She acknowledged that she took the conversation into the arena of homosexuality, not Miss Mbuyi
* There is little or no evidence to suggest that Miss Mbuyi targeted her colleague in an attempt to force her faith on her
* The employer’s lawyer sought to characterise Miss Mbuyi’s Christian beliefs as discriminatory, homophobic or akin to racism, which the Tribunal described as “unhelpful”
* The employer did not treat Miss Mbuyi fairly and there were concerns about the way that the investigation had been carried out, particularly the questions asked during Miss Mbuyi’s disciplinary hearing
* This was a case of ‘direct discrimination’, and finally
* Given all the evidence it was not proportionate to dismiss Miss Mbuyi
The Tribunal made clear that the internal investigation by the employer was hampered by the “stereotypical assumption about evangelical Christians” and that the employer either “pre-judged the outcome, accepting unchallenged evidence that supported the stereotypical assumption and/or interpreted Miss Mbuyi’s evidence in an almost impossible way”.