The Evening Standard reports that a Christian manager who was demoted after he posted his opposition to gay marriage on a social networking site has won his High Court case against his employer.
Mr Adam Smith, 55, had worked as a manager for Trafford Housing Trust for a number of years prior to the incident which occurred earlier this year when he posted up his opposition to gay marriage on his Facebook page. He specifically wrote that the proposal for gay couples to be married in Church was “an equality too far”. Mr Smith, who is Christian, was demoted, had his pay cut by 40%, and received a final written warning from his employer. He subsequently pursued a case in the civil courts for breach of contract.
Read more: Examples of gross misconduct
His employer’s justification for the sanctions imposed on Mr Smith were that Mr Smith had broken its code of conduct by expressing personal religious or political views that may cause offence to co-workers. However, Mr Smith had posted his message on Facebook outside of work hours and his comments were not visible to the general public – only friends of Mr Smith.
The Judge in the High Court found in Mr Smith’s favour in his claim for breach of contract, finding that the Facebook post could not be objectively construed as misconduct as they were not judgmental, disrespectful or liable to cause offence or upset. They were, further, phrased in moderate language. The Housing Trust was therefore in breach of contract for disciplining Mr Smith in the circumstances. Owing to the nature of the claim, the Judge was only able to award Mr Smith £100 in damages as a remedy – the difference between the sum he would have received prior to his demotion and the salary he received afterwards.
Mr Smith later commented that he was imply pleased to have won the case and that he was interested in pursuing justice rather than compensation. Trafford Housing Trust did not comment.
Analysis of the claim for breach of contract
This is a rather unusual case. Mr Smith would have been entitled to resign from his employment and claim constructive dismissal in the circumstances but, obviously did not do so. A claim for discrimination may also have been open to Mr Smith – although possibly slightly tenuous based on the facts. What this case shows is that employers must behave reasonably in circumstances relating to potential misconduct and cannot simply label an act misconduct if a reasonable observer would not have deemed such behaviour to be misconduct. If an employer fails to act reasonably then they are opening themselves up to a claim for constructive dismissal and/or wrongful dismissal in the Employment Tribunal.