Wiccan successfully claims for religious discrimination

Year Published: 2014

A “Wiccan” has been successful in her claim of discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief, after she was mocked and later dismissed after swapping her shifts in order to celebrate All Hallows’ Eve.

Wicca is a belief system and way of life originating in Ireland, Scotland and Wales, which pre-dates the arrival of the Christian faith. Followers practice traditions relating to the cycles of nature, the lunar phases and the seasons to celebrate their spirituality.

Facts

Ms Holland worked in a small supermarket that was transferred under TUPE to Tarloch Singh. His brother Gurnam Singh was a manager of the supermarket. Ms Holland followed the “Wicca” faith.

On 31 October Ms Holland had a conversation with Gurnam Singh, who is a Sikh, and another employee Mr Anwar, who is a Muslim, about her request to change her shift over the Halloween period in order for her to celebrate All Hallows Eve. Ms Holland alleged that after she tried to explain the faith to her colleagues she confirmed that some of the references they found about the “Wiccan” faith may refer to females as witches. Following this explanation her colleagues proceeded to make fun of the stereotypical views of witches and she found this to be offensive.

Ms Holland worked again on 1 November with Tarloch Singh who asked her about the shift change. She explained her religious beliefs to him and in response Tarloch Singh replied “What, you are not a Christian? You have got to be a Christian surely?” Ms Holland alleges that this statement was made with disgust at her chosen faith.

On 6 November Ms Holland was dismissed. She was informed that the reason for her dismissal was purely financial and she was given two weeks pay in lieu of notice. She was not given any redundancy payment, although she did return to the shop to undertake a paper round for approximately two weeks.

The owner and manager provided a very different version of events before the employment tribunal in which they denied any knowledge of Ms Holland’s faith. They also disputed the reason for the dismissal relying upon redundancy as part of the reason for her dismissal along with her alleged dishonesty, in which they accused Ms Holland of theft.

Findings

The employment tribunal found Ms Holland to be a reliable witness and generally preferred her evidence over that of the respondents, and found in her favour in regards to her claims of unfair dismissal, sex discrimination and found that she had been discriminated against on the grounds of her religion.

The tribunal found her dismissal to be unfair and accepted her claim of sex discrimination when she was dismissed over a male colleague “because he brings stock up the stairs. With stairs we thought it too difficult because you’re a woman”.

The tribunal felt that the religious comments made by Gurnam Singh “crossed the line from polite if uninformed and possibly crass enquiry into insult and mockery.” The tribunal found that the comments made by Tarloch Singh and the assumption that she was a Christian, allowed her to interpret his comments as a rejection of her Wiccan faith.

The tribunal stated that a hypothetical Christian who had changed shifts to celebrate a feast day would not have been subjected to that harassment and discrimination.

The tribunal awarded Ms Holland £15,241 in total with £9,096 for the discrimination she suffered and £6,145 for her unfair dismissal.

How does this affect employers?

Employers need to ensure that they have a robust policy regarding equal opportunities and harassment. This policy needs to be effectively communicated to all staff and where appropriate training should be given. All staff should be made aware that any religion or belief should not be mocked or criticised regardless of its prominence or reputation.

For further information on employment issues, please contact our employment team on 0161 475 7666.

 

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