In Mackereth v The Department for Work and Pensions and another, an Employment Tribunal held that a Christian doctor was not discriminated against on the grounds of religion or belief for refusing to address transgender patients by their chosen pronoun.
The law protects employees against discrimination because of religion or belief. Case law has established that in order to qualify as a protected characteristic that is eligible for protection under the Equality Act 2010 (the “Equality Act”) a religious belief must:
- Be genuinely held;
- Be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint;
- Be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
- Attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness cohesion and importance; and
- Be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
The claimant is a doctor who was employed at the Department for Work and Pensions (“DWP”). The DWP’s policy requires staff to refer to transgender patients by their preferred name, gender pronoun and title. The claimant said that his Christian beliefs prevented him from using the patients’ chosen pronoun if it did not match the person’s birth gender. After a series of conversations, the DWP contacted the claimant to request clarification on the claimant’s position on their policy. The claimant responded that as a Christian he could not in good conscience do what the DWP required. The claimant’s contract was terminated and the claimant brought claims against the DWP for (amongst other things) direct and indirect religious belief discrimination.
The Tribunal dismissed the claimant’s claims. In delivering its judgment, the Tribunal stressed that there was no dispute that Christianity falls within the scope of the Equality Act. Rather, the issue arose from the particular sub-sets of the claimant’s Christian belief relating to transgenderism. The Tribunal accepted that the claimant’s beliefs were genuinely held. However, the Tribunal also found that his beliefs were incompatible with human dignity and conflicted with the fundamental rights of others (in this case, transgender individuals). The claimant’s religious beliefs therefore did not meet all of the requirements for protection under the Equality Act.
The claimant has indicated that he intends to appeal the Tribunal’s decision.
Although this decision may be subject to appeal, the judgment confirms that, in order for a religious belief to be protected under the Equality Act, it must satisfy all five conditions established by case law. The decision also highlights that even though Christianity itself is a religious belief that qualifies as a protected characteristic, certain beliefs within Christianity may not themselves be protected.