Prior to the issuing of the written judgment the decision had been reported in the Press as meaning that "Christians Have no Right to Refuse to Work on Sunday" which is very definately NOT what the judgment says. Indeed at para 3 of his judgment Mr Justice Langstaff says
"We should make it clear at the outset of this Judgment to anyone who expects the conclusion to amount either to a ringing endorsement of an individual’s right not to be required to work on a Sunday on the one hand, or an employer’s freedom to require it on the other, that they will both be disappointed. No such broad general issue arises. The questions raised must be determined in the specific circumstances of this particular case alone."
also in para 42 the EAT says
We do not think it was well expressed to say, as the Tribunal here said at 88(iii), that the belief that Sunday should be a day of rest was not a core component of the Christian religion. If that was all that was said, and if there had been no wider context in which to read it, to express matters in that way would have been capable of being offensive. It would have placed the Court where it should not be, in the position of judging the tenets of faith (see Williamson), and it would have been a misdirection of law.However, we do not think it is what the Tribunal was saying
The facts of the case are therefore significant. In 2007 the Claimant Ms Mba was recruited to work at a registered children’s home which provided short residential breaks for children with serious disabilities and complex care needs, including such as challenging behaviour, medical needs, feeding difficulties and the like.
The home, not surprisingly, was open 7 days a week, 24 hours a day. Staff worked in 3 shifts: morning, afternoon and night, covering the 24 hours with at least 3 members of staff on duty at any time. Rotas for work were organised over a three week period and staff work two of the three weekends in each rota: that is, each person worked four weekend days every three weeks. Bank and agency staff were employed but the cost to the employer for Agency staff to work weekends, rather than fulltime staff, was higher than it was for weekdays.
When the Claimant was offered the job she understood that a promise had been made to her that she need not work Sunday shifts. Management thought that it had said it was not possible to alter the rota arrangements we have described, but recognised that it was likely to be possible that the rota could be worked so that the Claimant could work every Saturday and have every Sunday as a day off. This fell short of a promise never to require the Claimant to work on Sunday - but it was an offer to take reasonable steps to accommodate her wishes at least in the short term. This was a clear disagreement on the fact but the Tribunal having heard the evidence accepted that the employer’s version was correct and that decision of fact had to be accepted by the EAT. In any event this question of whether Mrs Mba had been given a promise or not was a simple contractual issue which raised no point regarding Discrimination.
In 2009 difficulties arose over the rostering and ultimately, by 22 June 2009, Management said that the Claimant would be scheduled to work two weekends in three in accordance with the normal rota with effect from 13 July 2009. Mrs Mba did not attend work on the Sundays she was rostered and Disciplinary action followed, which included a final written warning in early 2010. An appeal against that was rejected on 25 May 2010. Five days later the Claimant resigned. It was noted by the EAT that there was never any question of the quality of the Claimant’s work nor her personal integrity. Having resigned she brought a claim alleging "indirect" religious discrimination.
On the facts of her employment I have to say that I cannot see that there could be any question of Mrs Mba ever winning her case. The Children in the home had to be fed and cared for on a Sunday just as much as on any other day and personally I would see that as performing a Christian act however my personal view on the nature of a Christians duty in this situation is not the same as Ms Mba's view and the mistake the EAT made was to take account the views of Christians such as in balance against the views of Christians such as Ms Mba.
In the case the Employment Tribunal and the EAT had considered a witness statement that had been put in on behalf of Ms Mba by Bishop Nazir Ali which said.
“Some Christians will not work on the Sabbath (except for mercies), others may work only in an emergency.”
In deciding allegations of Indirect Discrimination, as occurred in this case, a Tribunal is supposed to be satisfied that a "group" of people are affected by the alleged Discriminatory practice and the evidence from Bishop Nazir Ali did this by stating that "some Christians will not work on the Sabbath". The EAT however turned this around by deciding that because "some Christians will work on the Sabbath" that meant that because only a minority of Christians would refuse to work therefore it was permissible to require Christians to work because only a minority of them would be affected.
In this respect the EAT seriously misunderstood discrimination law. The requirement that no Christian could be guaranteed to have Sunday off affected those Christians such as Mrs Mba who were not willing to work on the Sabbath and that should have been the only relevant issue for the EAT. Once it had decided that the rules of the Employer did affect that group of Christians then it should have gone on to decide whether the rule was justified which, on the facts of the case I am sure it was. But they should not have tried to side step the issue by deciding that because only a minority of Christians refuse to work on a Sunday that of itself made the rule justifiable.
The legal route taken by the EAT is extremely problematic to all areas of Religious Discrimination, could Hijabs be banned because only a minority of Muslim women wear them or Sikh Turbans ? On the basis of this decision the answer could be yes but I would be very surprised if that is how the decision is applied in practice.