Orthodox nursery that sacked teacher for living with boyfriend wins appeal

Orthodox nursery that sacked teacher for living with boyfriend wins appeal

Employment tribunal rules that Gan Menachem kindergarten in Hendon did not discriminate against Zelda De Groen

Zelda de Groen 

(Picture credit: Facebook)
Zelda de Groen (Picture credit: Facebook)

The Employment Appeal Tribunal has held that a Jewish worker at a Chabad nursery in Hendon who was dismissed for cohabiting with her boyfriend did not suffer direct or indirect discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief.

Zelda De Groen had been working as a teacher and team leader at the Gan Menachem Kindergarten in Hendon for four year before she was dismissed with immediate effect in July 2016.

In a letter detailing the “allegations,” she was told: “You have presented yourself in such a way as to prove you have acted or are acting in contravention of the Nursery’s culture, ethos and religious beliefs.”

She was told: “Through such damage your disclosure has potentially led to financial detriment of the Nursery and loss of income on the basis parents have threatened to remove their children from the business to prevent them being in your care.”

In 2017, an Employment Tribunal found that she had been discriminated against on the grounds of sex, religion and belief, and had suffered harassment.

However, lawyers acting for Gan Menachem against De Groen challenged the original 2017 decision and appealed in November last year.

In a ruling handed down this week, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) struck down the original Tribunal’s ruling that Ms De Groen had been discriminated on the grounds of religion or belief, while not allowing an appeal against the original ruling that she had suffered sex discrimination and harassment.

The original tribunal in 2017 found that De Groen was discriminated against because of her lack of belief in Orthodox Judaism. It also said that she was treated as she was because of the religious beliefs of the nursery.

The Equality Act 2010 lets an employer demand that an employee has “certain characteristics” if it is an “occupational requirement” but the original tribunal said this should be a requirement for the job, adding that “lifestyles and personal beliefs are almost always excluded from the scope of an occupational requirement”.

In his ruling this week, however, Mr Justice Swift said the Employment Tribunal “had incorrectly concluded that an employer acting because of its own religion or belief discriminated against its employees”.

He added: “There was no sufficient evidential basis for any conclusion that the Appellant discriminated against the Respondent because of her religion or belief.”

John Bowers QC, acting for the nursery, said in 2017 that the ruling “has wide implications for the Orthodox community in that it cannot insist on teachers living the lifestyle it would want to instil in its children”.

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