The case of Richard Page is due to be heard in the Employment Tribunal in Croydon next week; see here. Mr Page is a Christian and an ex Magistrate who was dismissed from his position as a Non-Executive Director of Kent & Medway NHS & Social Care Trust (“KMPT”) for expressing the opinion that heterosexual couples make better parents than same-sex couples for adopted children.
Page expressed this opinion in public on a number of occasions, including on the television show ‘Good Morning Britain’ in response to his dismissal as a Magistrate for expressing the aforementioned view when considering an adoption case that was before him.
When Mr Page was suspended from the Trust he received a letter from its Chairman Mr Ling stating:
“The recent publicity you have courted is likely to further undermine the confidence staff, particularly lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered (sic) [LGBT] staff, have in the leadership of the trust ……
Links between the stigma often associated with being LGBT (sic) and poor mental health are well established. It is vital that patients and [the] local population are confident that KMPT will challenge stigma or discrimination and treat everyone fairly and impartially.”1
A recent survey suggested that 42% of the UK population consider homosexual acts to be unnatural and 36% share Mr Page’s opinion on same-sex couples being unsuitable as parents, see here.
I have not seen the pleadings in the case but understand that part of Page’s cause of action is that KMPT breached the Equality Act (2010) by subjecting him to detriment on the grounds of his religious belief (a protected characteristic). Direct discrimination against a person due to a protected characteristic cannot be legally justified. I suspect that KMPT will argue that Page was not dismissed because of his opinions per se but because of the manner and the context in which expressed his opinions, meaning either that the Equality Act does not apply or that any discrimination is merely indirect. Indirect discrimination is still unlawful unless it can be justified and I infer that KMPT would try and justify the decision for the reasons given in the above letter.
If so then the application of the Trust’s reasoning is potentially limitless, with the expression of opinions on any meaningful subject being used as a ground for dismissal. KMPT is not of course involved in adoption and there is no suggestion that Mr Page advocates denying or limiting services to patients on the grounds of sexual orientation. Is KMPT actually suggesting that patients will refrain from using publicly funded services because of Mr Page’s opinions?
Perhaps this question can be asked when the case is heard next week.
1From the Guardian 27.3.2016