A teacher who took her employer to Employment Tribunal when she dismissed for refusing to divorce her sex offender husband was discriminated against because of her religion.

Pendleton was a teacher for Derbyshire County Council when her husband, a teacher at another school, was given a 10 month prison sentence after having been found guilty of making indecent images of children.

Pendleton is a Christian and because of her Christian belief in the sanctity of her marriage vows, she decided to stay with her husband. Because of this decision, she was dismissed by the Council who found that her choice to stay with her husband demonstrated her unsuitability to perform her safeguarding responsibilities and contravened the ethos of the school. Her disassociation with her husband’s actions was never in doubt; she had no involvement in it and did not know what he was doing. She also had a clear disciplinary record at the school.

When she was dismissed, she made a claim to Employment Tribunal of unfair dismissal and religious discrimination. She claimed that her religion – and the consequent view of marriage – had been the reason for dismissal which would not have been the same for people of other religions. Her claim was one of indirect discrimination i.e. she was disproportionately affected by the decision to dismiss because of her religion. The law allows employers to objectively justify indirect discrimination which effectively means they will not be found to have acted unlawfully if they can show that they have a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

The Employment Tribunal found that she had been unfairly dismissed but not discriminated against. The Employment Appeal Tribunal overturned the discrimination finding, holding that Pendleton’s religion did place her at a disadvantage when their employer is asking them to divorce their partner. The school had not been able to show that its decision to dismiss was justified.

“Many claims involving religion will be about indirect discrimination where an employer will need to show that their actions were objectively justified. The decision to dismiss in this case was too harsh bearing in mind the employee’s religion and put her in a worse position in comparison with people of other religions.” – Education Business Partner, David Carey