Disciplinary action for promoting Christianity not discrimination

May 2016

In Wasteney v East London NHS Foundation Trust, the employment appeal tribunal held that disciplinary action taken against a Christian senior manager for imposing her religious views on a Muslim junior employee was not discriminatory. The junior employee had complained that she felt that her manager (Ms Wasteney) was ‘grooming’ her by, among other things, sending her religious DVDs and tickets to church events; telling her that she needed to let Jesus into her life; giving her a book about a Muslim Pakistani woman who had converted to Christianity; and praying over her and laying hands on her by touching her knee.

The Trust investigated and concluded that the allegations against Ms Wasteney were established and that she had failed to maintain appropriate professional boundaries, taking into account her seniority. It gave her a final written warning, downgraded to a first written warning with a recommendation of training, on appeal. Ms Wasteney brought claims of direct discrimination and harassment on the grounds of religion or belief.

The tribunal rejected her claims and the employment appeal tribunal upheld this decision on appeal. The employer was entitled to deal with this as serious misconduct, namely the blurring of professional boundaries and the subjection of a junior colleague to improper pressure and unwanted conduct.  The Trust would have taken a similar approach had she been pressing a particular non-religious point of view. Her argument that the disciplinary sanction was ‘oppressive’ such as to amount to harassment was rejected. Neither did Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights assist her. The manifestation of religious belief on which she relied was ‘sharing her faith with a consenting colleague’; the factual findings by the tribunal were that her colleague had not consented. This case illustrates the distinction between sharing a belief with a consenting colleague (for which disciplinary action would be discriminatory) and disciplining someone for improperly promoting religious belief in a way that was not consensual, and which took advantage of someone in a subordinate relationship.