‘Do you think [your colleague] is wicked?’ ‘Yes, we are all wicked’

Sarah Mbuyi was reported to have expressed the view ‘that homosexuality was a sin’ to a lesbian colleague. In a decision made on the 5th of March, the employment tribunal reached a unanimous verdict that her dismissal amounted to indirect discrimination against her freedom to manifest her religious beliefs.

The 31-year-old evangelical Christian was dismissed from her employment at Newpark Childcare in Shepherd’s Bush for gross misconduct towards a fellow employee. The Belgian national argued that this violated her right under Article 9 – freedom of thought, consciousness and religion – of the European Convention on Human Rights.

In a conversation about her church, the colleague asked whether she would be welcomed and what Ms Mbuyi believed God thought of her sexuality and living arrangements. In reply Mbuyi stated she would be welcome but ‘God is not OK with what you do’.

The tribunal took into account the significant offence caused in relation to the issue, stating that they did not intend to negate the genuine resulting upset; particularly in ‘having a Catholic upbringing and some challenges when “coming out” ‘.

The tribunal did dismiss the idea that the colleague was being ‘specifically targeted’ and that this constituted harassment.  The case presented at the disciplinary hearing was considered to be ‘an honest response to a question’ and pointed out that Mbuyi had also given another piece of Christian literature to a different colleague. It was added that the allegations of specific targeting by the employer stemmed ‘from a stereotypical assumption about evangelical Christians’.

‘It is worth noting that the claimant, whilst unrepentant about her beliefs, always qualified [her] expression by emphasising that, for example “we are all sinners” ‘.

The tribunal was also critical of how the original disciplinary hearing was handled. The hearing included being asked ‘do you think [your colleague] is wicked?’ and a discussion about the ‘types of sin God does not like’. There were further disputes about other allegations made by the employer in the letter of dismissal. For instance, Mbuyi categorically denies saying ‘Oh my God, are you a lesbian?’ The tribunal considered this to be a false assertion since it was added in different ink at the bottom of the incident log and therefore it was not taken into legitimate consideration.

In a statement made during the case, Mbuyi clarified she would work with, support and love all children and their parents, including those from same-sex couples. She also reiterated that if asked directly about her faith, she would answer honestly.

Tiffany Clutterbuck, a director of Newpark Childcare, told the Sunday Times she was disappointed by the decision. She continued by saying: ‘we have robust policies and rules to ensure our nursery is inclusive and supportive for our children and staff and we took the decision to dismiss Miss Mbuyi with a view to protecting that culture … Our priority will always be to provide an environment where every child feels like he or she belongs’.

 

Sources

https://www.secularism.org.uk/uploads/mbuyi-et-judgment.pdf

http://www.thesundaytimes.co.uk/sto/news/uk_news/Society/article1565677.ece