News » Glbt

U.K. Public Servant Refuses Civil Unions Duty, Wins Tribunal Case

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Thursday July 10, 2008

In the U.K., a Christian civil servant who refused to do her job and preside over same-sex civil union ceremonies has won her case--along with a possible big payday.

The U.K. newspaper The Daily Mail reported on the story in a July 10 article.

The registrar, Lillian Ladele, claimed that when she asked not to have to preside over the ceremonies because they were in conflict with her personal religious beliefs, she was threatened with losing her job.

A tribunal found that the Islington Council, for which Ladele worked, was too concerned with the needs of GLBT citizens, according to the Daily Mail story.

Further, the tribunal opined that the council had demonstrated "no respect" for Ladele's religious convictions in threatening to fire her from her civil service job, which paid Ladele more than $61,000 annually.

Ledele had held her job for 16 years, but the tribunal found that her colleagues began to regard her as a "pariah" and to subject her to a, "hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive [work] environment."

Ladele had brought the case to the tribunal claiming that she had been the victim of discrimination and harassment because of her religious convictions, a claim that the tribunal upheld, the Daily Mail reported.

Heads of local government around the U.K. had advised against finding in favor of Ladele, warning of what the results might be of such a precedent, in which a civil employee's personal beliefs are allowed to trump professional responsibility.

The tribunal opined that, "This is a situation where there is a conflict between two rights or freedoms."

Continued the tribunal's finding, "It is an important case, which may have a wider impact than the dispute between the parties. The tribunal accepts that it would be wrong for one set of rights to trump another."

However, "Islington Council rightly considered the importance of the right of the gay community not to be discriminated against, but did not consider the right of Miss Ladele as a member of a religious group."

At issue was the fact that the local government would have been able to continue to offer effective service even had Ladele been allowed to opt out of her duties with respect to same-sex civil unions.

How the ruling will affect other local governments, especially in light of the 18,000 annual civil unions that take place in the U.K., is not certain.

Also unclear is how local governments might respond to their employees refusing to do other tasks on religious grounds, in light of the tribunal's ruling.

Also at issue was the purported marginalization of Ladele in the workplace. The tribunal accepted Ladele's claims of being poorly treated, and said that this treatment "amount[ed] to a violation of Miss Ladele's dignity and created an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for her."

The Daily Mail article quoted Ladele as saying, "I am delighted with the decision."

Continued Ladele, "It is a victory for religious liberty, not just for myself but for others in a similar position to mine."

Added Ladele, "Gay rights should not be used as an excuse to bully or harass people over their religious beliefs."

The Christian Institute underwrote the legal costs of the case on Ladele's behalf.

The issue of monetary compensation will be addressed in September, reported the Daily Mail; the amount the tribunal can award to Labele has no upper limit under laws concerning cases of religious discrimination.

The Islington Council is considering an appeal.

Said Councilor John Gilbert, "We're clearly disappointed with the result, as we consider our approach was the right one."

Continued Gilbert, "We are now considering the judgment carefully in order to decide whether we should appeal."

Gilbert took issue with the tribunal's reasoning, saying, "On first reading, the Tribunal seems to have based its findings primarily on the fact that we could have continued to provide civil partnerships without Ms. Ladele."

However, Gilbert said, "The wider issue of whether councils should be able to expect employees to carry out civil partnerships doesn't seem to have been fully addressed."

Added the councilor, "In our view this is a crucial question that has much wider implications for local authorities and employers."

Said Gilbert, "We'd like to assure staff and service users that our commitment to services and equalities won't be affected."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.