20 February, 2019
Ms De Groen had been employed as a teacher by Gan Menachem, an ultra-orthodox Jewish Nursery, since July 2012. She was living with her boyfriend whilst working at the nursery, in contravention of the strict religious requirements of ultra-orthodox Judaism. This information came to light at a barbeque attended by parents of children from the nursery. After complaints by parents, Ms De Groen was summoned to a meeting regarding the matter where she was told that what she did in her private life was her own business, but was asked to confirm that she no longer lived with her boyfriend. She refused to lie and was dismissed by way of letter dated 27 July 2016 with immediate effect and with pay in lieu of notice.
Following the dismissal, Ms De Groen brought successful claims of unlawful discrimination on grounds of sex and on grounds of religion and/or belief before the employment tribunal ("ET"). The nursey appealed.
On appeal, the employment appeal tribunal ("EAT") upheld the claims of sex discrimination. However, applying Lee v Ashers Baking, the EAT held that the ET erred in finding that Ms De Groen had been less favourably treated by reason of the Nursery's religious belief, rather than the Claimant's. The Nursery acted because of its own beliefs, and Ms De Groen's non-compliance with those beliefs, as opposed to acting due to her beliefs.
This is an interesting case for faith based educational institutions which appear to have more protection in relation to discrimination cases than is initially apparent. However, whilst the faith based nature of the institution appears to have a degree of protection, such decisions could still be in breach of other anti-discrimination provisions, such as the sex discrimination upheld in this case.
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