23 December 2016 #Employment
In the recent case of Reverend Canon J C Pemberton v The Right Reverend Richard Inwood, Acting Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham, the Respondent was able to rely on an exception in the Equality Act 2010 to avoid liability for an otherwise discriminatory act.
The Claimant was a Church of England priest who married his long term male partner. He was subsequently offered a new post as a Chaplain at an NHS Trust subject to the Respondent Bishop authorising his ‘Extra Parochial Ministry Licence’. The Bishop however refused to grant him this licence on the basis the Claimant had entered into a same sex marriage. This is something believed to be contrary to the doctrines of the Church of England.
The Claimant brought claims for unlawful direct discrimination because of sexual orientation and/or marital status and harassment. However, the Equality Act sets out a number of ‘occupational requirement’ exceptions on which employers can rely to justify their actions, thereby avoiding liability. One just occupational requirement is where employment is for the purposes of an ‘organised religion’. Relying on this, the Bishop was permitted to refuse to grant the licence as he had done so in order to comply with the doctrines of the Church of England.
Genuine occupational requirements will be rarely engaged for most organisations, however, this case serves as a reminder that such exceptions are available and can be relied upon to justify acts which, on the face of it, are clearly discriminatory.