No, said the Court of Appeal in DR CATHERINE MACKENZIE -v- THE CHANCELLOR, MASTERS & SCHOLARS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CAMBRIDGE  [2019] EWCA Civ 1060

The Claimant, who is a practising Christian, held the position of Non-Executive Director of an NHS Trust. He was also a lay magistrate sitting on family cases involving adoption decisions. The Claimant holds the firm faith-based belief that it is “not normal” for a child to be adopted by a single-parent or a same-sex couple. The public expression of those views led to disciplinary action in respect of his Magistracy. The Claimant participated in media interviews about that action without informing the Trust. The Trust instructed the Claimant to inform it before contacting the media. The Claimant was subsequently removed from the Magistracy. Before the Trust could speak to him about that removal, the Claimant took part in a further televised interview with BBC Breakfast News, during which he expressed the view that he could not see how adoption by a same sex-couple could ever be in the best interests of the child. The Claimant was thereafter suspended by the Trust and his term as a NED was not renewed. The Claimant issued claims of discrimination (direct and indirect) because of religious belief and victimisation. The Employment Tribunal dismissed the claims.

Held (dismissing the appeal): that the Tribunal had not erred in law in finding that the Claimant was treated as he was because of the manner in which the Claimant had expressed his beliefs (rather than because of the beliefs themselves), including the fact that he had spoken to the media without informing the Trust and had done so in the knowledge that his conduct would be likely to have an adverse effect on the Trust’s ability to engage with sections of the community it serves. That finding as to the reason for the Claimant’s treatment was a finding of fact which cannot be said to be perverse. The Tribunal had also not erred in rejecting the claim of indirect discrimination on the grounds that the Claimant was unable to show group disadvantage. The Tribunal had correctly applied the Court of Appeal’s decision in Mba v Merton London Borough Council [2014] 1 WLR 1501. Finally, the Tribunal had not erred in concluding, in accordance with the principles established in Martin v Devonshires Solicitors [2011] ICR 352, that the various reasons relied upon by the Respondent for its treatment of the Claimant were properly separable from the allegations of discrimination which the Claimant was making against the Lord Chancellor and others in respect of his removal from the Magistracy.

In Kelly -v- Royal Mail Group Ltd UKEAT/0262/18/RN,

The Claimant worked as a postman. He had a poor attendance record generally and had triggered the Respondent’s Attendance Policy on several occasions due to repeated episodes of planned and unplanned absences. In 2017, the Claimant had two further periods of absence relating to surgery to treat Carpal Tunnel Syndrome in each of his hands. These absences triggered the policy again, the second period of absence triggering the final AR3 stage of the policy, which entitled the Respondent to review the whole of the employee’s attendance record. The Respondent decided that it had lost confidence in the Claimant’s ability to maintain a satisfactory attendance record and decided to dismiss him. The Employment Tribunal (ET) held that, although the decision to dismiss was harsh, it fell within the band of reasonable responses and the dismissal was fair. An allegation that the dismissal amounted to discrimination arising from disability was also dismissed on the basis that the Respondent did not know and could not reasonably be expected to know that the Claimant had a disability. The Claimant appealed on the grounds that it was perverse to conclude that it was fair to dismiss the Claimant for two periods of absence for corrective surgery for which the Claimant was essentially blameless, and for the Respondent to rely upon earlier absences. It was also said that the Tribunal erred in accepting that the Respondent did not have constructive knowledge of disability in circumstances where it did little more than “rubber stamp” the conclusions of Occupational Health in this regard.

The EAT Held. Dismissing the appeal that the Tribunal’s conclusion as to the fairness of the dismissal could not be said to be perverse. The policy expressly permitted earlier absences to be taken into account. Conduct that is in line with policy is unlikely to be unfair. The periods of absence for corrective surgery were, in each case, extended by other factors, and it was not outside the band of reasonable responses to take these absences into account. The policy applied to all absences, irrespective of fault or blame, and the Respondent was entitled to look at the overall pattern of absence in determining whether there was a likelihood of satisfactory attendance in the future.

As to disability discrimination, the Respondent had not simply rubber stamped the OH reports, but had, on the face of it, given independent consideration to the question of disability. Moreover, the OH reports themselves contained more than a bare assertion that the Claimant was not disabled. In these circumstances, there was no error in the Tribunal’s conclusion as to the absence of constructive knowledge of disability.

In Flowers -v- East of England Ambulance Trust [2019] EWCA Civ 947 – the Court of Appeal held that voluntary overtime should be counted when calculating holiday pay if it is sufficiently regular and settled for payments made in respect of it to amount to normal remuneration.