Sarah Mbuyi was fired from her job at a nursery in West London after having a conversation with a homosexual colleague in which she explained the biblical position on homosexuality and marriage.
On 6 January 2014, her colleague at the nursery initiated the conversation and had asked whether she would be welcomed at church and whether God would approve of her civil partnership and allow her to marry in church. Sarah said that: ‘God is not okay with what you do… but everyone is a sinner and God offers forgiveness’. Miss Mbuyi recalled: ‘When I said “No, God does not condone the practice of homosexuality, but does love you and says you should come to him as you are”, she became emotional and went off to report me to my manager.’
Sacked within three days
Following a complaint made by her colleague, Sarah was investigated and sacked for gross misconduct within three days of the conversation (9 January 2014). 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 brave judgment, 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, is not incompatible with human dignity and is not in conflict with the fundamental rights of others’ and that the employer’s policy that there was a ‘prohibition on 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.’
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.
• 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’.
• Given all the evidence it was not proportionate to dismiss Miss Mbuyi.
The judgment noted that although it is within the law to hold a belief such as that expressed by Miss Mbuyi, it is the matter of when, where and how this is discussed which is at issue. It was also noted that there could be offence taken when likening acts of will and choice (e.g. stealing) to those of sexual orientation. Even though this judgment has gone in the favour of the Christian in the workplace, it is worth wondering how another employment tribunal may have reached their verdict in light of these two comments and it should lead all those in secular employment to recall Matthew 10.16 – to be both gentle as a dove, but as wise as a serpent.