A Pentecostal Christian has failed to persuade the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) that the Employment Tribunal (ET) erred in dismissing his claim that he had suffered direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds of his religious beliefs (Trayhorn v The Secretary of State for Justice).

Barry Trayhorn worked at HM Prison Littlehey as a gardener. The prison houses approximately 1,200 inmates including sex offenders and young offenders. Mr Trayhorn is an ordained Pentecostal minister and volunteered to help at services in the prison chapel. Following a complaint from a prisoner that he had said that same-sex marriage was wrong and ‘needed stopping’, he was told not to preach at services in future but was permitted to continue to lead the singing.

At a service a few weeks later, however, Mr Trayhorn spoke out forcefully on damnation and homosexuality when commenting on a passage from the Bible (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). There were further complaints about his preaching from prisoners, one objecting to the way in which he had goaded the congregation, telling them to complain about him if they didn’t like what he was saying. As a result, Mr Trayhorn was told to stop volunteering at chapel services. After being notified that he would be required to attend a disciplinary hearing, he went on sick leave and was signed off work for three months. He resigned before the disciplinary process had been completed, the outcome of which was to issue him with a final written warning.

The ET rejected Mr Trayhorn’s claims of unfair constructive dismissal and direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. Firstly, his employment was terminated by his resignation, not because he was constructively dismissed. As regards his discrimination claims, the reason he was stopped from volunteering and made the subject of disciplinary proceedings was not his religious beliefs but because his sermon went far beyond mere quotation of scripture and lacked context and sensitivity of approach. The ET also found that Mr Trayhorn’s claims of indirect discrimination were without foundation. He had not produced evidence to support his contention that the prison’s Conduct and Disciplinary Policy and its Equality of Treatment for Employees Policy each amounted to a provision, criterion or practice (PCP) that put employees who were of the Christian faith and/or of the Pentecostal denomination at a particular disadvantage, either singly or as a group. His argument was that they were more likely to quote from or discuss passages from the Bible that those attending chapel services might find offensive or to make comments based on their beliefs that could be deemed to be a breach of the equality policy, but the ET observed that members of other religions and no religions hold firm views on homosexuality. Nor was there evidence to support his claim that there was an ‘unwritten practice that issues involving discussion of religion, moral condemnation of homosexual practice or any expression of Christian sexual ethics could not be mentioned or that views thereon could not be expressed in the workplace’.

Mr Trayhorn took his case to the EAT and lost. In the EAT’s view, the ET had applied the correct tests for direct and indirect discrimination. His employer did not object because he had quoted from the Bible – a manifestation of his belief – but because of the way in which he had addressed the congregation. Nor did the EAT support Mr Trayhorn’s argument that the ET had erred in relying on ‘group disadvantage’ (Section 19(2)(b) of the Equality Act 2010) as a necessary condition for him to establish indirect discrimination or that doing so was incompatible with his rights under Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Although the ET had referred to group disadvantage, it had not reached its decision on that basis. On the facts, it had not been satisfied that the two PCPs put Mr Trayhorn at a disadvantage because of his religious beliefs or that other Christians, whether singly or as a group, were disadvantaged.

Contact Damian McCarthy for advice on any aspect of discrimination law.