Review of Employment Case Law Updates

02 July 2015

Maxine Orr, Partner, presents a review of Employment Case Law Updates

INTRODUCTION BY WORTHINGTONS (Full Version available in Document Section below)

Welcome to the second Worthingtons’ Case Review of 2015.

With the end of term in sight and the vacation period about to kick off, it is an excellent time to take a look at what has been exercising the courts in the employment law arena.

Equality and Anti-discrimination laws have been dominating the Northern Irish media in recent months with the “Gay Cake” – Asher’s Bakery case dividing opinions throughout Northern Ireland and beyond.This has brought the issue of competing individual rights to the forefront of public debate.

On 19th May 2015, District Judge Brownlee ruled that the owners of Asher’s Bakery had discriminated against Gareth Lee, a gay rights activist by refusing to bake a cake with a slogan supporting gay marriage.Headlines of “Cooking up a religious storm” and “Christian Persecution” continue as Asher’s appeal the decision to the Court of Appeal.The Judge recognised that:

“The purpose [of the Regulations] was to secure that people of homosexual orientation are treated equally with people of heterosexual orientation by those in the business of supplying goods, facilities and services. Parliament was very well aware that there were deeply held religious objections to what was being proposed and careful consideration had been given to how best to accommodate these within the overall purpose. For the reasons explained in the Explanatory Memorandum …, Parliament did not insert a conscience objection clause for the protection of individuals who held such beliefs.”

The task of the Judge was to apply the laws as they currently exist in Northern Ireland.The concept of “conscience objection” or “reasonable accommodation” which can be found in other jurisdictions does not form part of the laws on discrimination in Northern Ireland.It is difficult to envisage any different outcome when the matter is appealed.

Contrast this with the case of Greater Glasgow Health Board –v- Doogan (2014) UKSC for thought provoking reading on a conscientious objection point from a different legal perspective.

Another very interesting scenario arose in the case of Elizabeth Kennedy –v- Equality Commission for Northern Ireland and not simply because of the identity of the Respondent.The Tribunal had to consider the contractual position of a female on a career break and discrimination in how the career break policy was operated – ie in leaving female employees “in limbo” – they Claimant was awarded injury to feelings in relation to indirect sex discrimination but her claim for wages or breach of contract was not accepted as she remained in employment.

Two decisions on Unfair Dismissal – namely Jonathan Trimble –v- Armagh City and District Council (2014) 1261/14andDavid Robinson –v- Coleraine Borough Council (2014) 1679/13 are interesting on how the Tribunals deal with the issue of a “harsh” or “disproportionate” argument from the Claimants.Both cases related to the Building Control functions within each Council and both Claimants argued that they ought not to have been dismissed in all the circumstances, however the Tribunal did not agree in either case, albeit both were heard by different tribunals.In the Armagh City and District Council case, the Tribunal held “The key point in this case was that the claimant was a public servant involved in an enforcement role and was bound by very clear obligations in relation to potential conflicts of interest and in relation to the fact that his first duty lay with his employer” and as similar point was made in the Coleraine Borough Council case.

There are so many noteworthy cases in this review that we would recommend to practitioners.

To make it easy to access particular areas of interest or cases of note, the review has been categorised into topics so you can link directly to the case summary or the full case report as required – enjoy!

We hope that you will find the case law review of assistance and should you have any queries or require specific advice, please do not hesitate to contact us. Maxine Orr & Louise McAloon Worthingtons Solicitors 24-38 Gordon Street Belfast BT1 2LG T: 028 90 434015 E: employment@worthingtonslaw.co.uk

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