Council worker was 'fairly dismissed' in proselytism case

Council worker was 'fairly dismissed' in proselytism case

By staff writers
11 Aug 2010

A Christian sacked from his council job in London over his behaviour towards a woman with an incurable illness has lost his legal claim.

A written judgment issued yesterday by the London south employment tribunal ruled that Duke Amachree was "fairly dismissed" from his post by Wandsworth Borough Council.

Mr Amachree was suspended from his role as a Homelessness Prevention Officer on January 28, 2009, after his employers received a complaint from a "shocked" and "upset" service user.

The woman, referred to as Ms X, had sought advice about her housing situation during an interview with Mr Amachree two days previously. The tribunal heard that when she revealed she was suffering from an incurable disease, the father-of-two discussed, among other things, his religious beliefs with her and suggested she "should put her faith in God".

A council spokesman told the local paper: “The staff member gave wholly inappropriate, unprofessional and unacceptable advice to a member of the public, which caused great upset and distress."

It added: "After the member of the public had complained about his conduct, the staff member disclosed sensitive personal information about that person to the media."

Mr Amachree, who had worked for the council for 18 years, was dismissed for gross misconduct in July 2009 following the the council's internal investigation and disciplinary hearing.

A subsequent appeal against its decision was dismissed and he launched a legal claim for unfair dismissal, religious discrimination and breach of contract in respect of the failure to give him notice of dismissal.

However, following a hearing in June and July 2010, the tribunal ruled he was "fairly dismissed" and was not discriminated against on the grounds of his religion by the council. His claim of breach of contract was also judged to be not well founded and dismissed.

In a statement issued by campaigning group the Christian Legal Centre, which backed his case, Mr Amachree said: "I am devastated by the outcome. This is a sad day for Christians who simply want to live out their faith in the workplace without fear."

He may appeal against the decision, the Christian Legal Centre said.

A Wandsworth Borough Council spokesman commented: "We're delighted that the tribunal has found in our favour, supported the common sense and wholly reasonable way we handled this case and rejected the totally spurious and misleading claims that were made against us."

In particular, the council said in an earlier statement: "It is categorically untrue to suggest that this is about a member of staff saying ‘God bless’ or that the council has a policy banning employees from making references to God in the workplace.”

However, it said, professional responsibility and sensitivity towards the needs of patients had to be the priority in all situations.

Commenting on the case, Andrew Copson, chief executive of the British Humanist Association, which welcomed the judgment, said: "When we take on jobs of service to others, we need to understand that our own prejudices and preferences come second to the needs of those we are employed to help and serve. The law has very properly upheld that principle today."

He went on to express concern about the growing prominence of cases such as Mr Amachree’s: "The growing trend for political Christian groups to bring nuisance cases of alleged discrimination is highly alarming. Even when the courts find – as they invariably have – no evidence of discrimination, these lobby groups, instead of accepting this, go on to claim instead that the whole system of law discriminates against them and that the whole of the law should shift to accommodate their prejudices. Theocratic arguments like this, advanced in the name of equality for Christians, need to be exposed for what they are."

The Christian think-tank Ekklesia, which has also been critical of the way campaigning groups are keen to exploit cases like this, has argued that in situations involving sensitivity over religion or belief, a strategy of mediation and conciliation rather than litigation would be far more effective for all concerned.

The victim in this case, the woman with the terminal illness, had reportedly never wanted Mr Amachree sacked, though she was disapproving of, and distressed by, his behaviour.

However, the question here was not just about proselytism, but other issues of professional conduct, the court heard.

[Ekk/3]

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