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Indirect Belief Discrimination

In the recent case of Pendleton v Derbyshire County Council, the EAT has upheld a claim for indirect discrimination on grounds of religion or belief, following a claimant’s claim that she was placed at a substantial disadvantage as a result of her belief in the sanctity of marriage, based on her Christian views.

The Claimant, who was a teacher, was married to the head teacher of another school who was convicted of making indecent images of children and voyeurism. The Claimant, who had a long and unblemished career, had no knowledge or involvement in the offences, and no concerns were raised about the Claimant’s own conduct, nor her ability to safeguard children. However, the Claimant was dismissed as a consequence of her continuing relationship and refusal to leave her husband following his conviction.

The Claimant argued that her refusal to leave her husband was based on her religious belief that marriage vows are sacred.  She alleged that the school’s decision to dismiss amounted to a ‘practice’ of dismissing employees in these circumstances, and that as a result of the school’s application of this practice, she had suffered a disadvantaged when compared to other employees who did not hold the same religious beliefs as her who might have been prepared to leave their spouses in similar circumstances.

The EAT agreed with the Claimant finding that employer’s decision to dismiss amounted to a ‘practice’, and that the Claimant was disadvantaged by this practice as a result of her religious beliefs.

Whilst the circumstances of this case are somewhat unusual, it is important to note that even an apparently ‘one off’ decision such as this may be considered a ‘practice’ and could therefore give rise to a claim for indirect discrimination in appropriate circumstances.

Throughout the year we run a series of events to keep you updated about changes in legislation or other topical issues, ensuring you are equipped to prevent or effectively manage difficult situations if and when they arise. For details of upcoming events click here.

If you need any further advice please call Gemma Sherbourne on 0113 220 6341 or email

About the Author

Gemma Sherbourne

Legal Director

Gemma is an experienced employment lawyer, providing advice for a variety of clients from senior executives…

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