Victory for demoted Christian

Posted: 19th November 2012

facebookA Christian who was demoted at work for posting his opposition to gay marriage on Facebook has won a breach of contract claim after a judge ruled that he was wrongly found guilty of gross misconduct by his employers. However, having started his claim in the county court rather than an employment tribunal, Adrian Smith’s damages award was limited to under £100.

Mr Smith lost his managerial position, had his salary cut by 40% and was given a final written warning by Trafford Housing Trust (THT) after commenting on the social networking site that gay weddings in churches were ‘an equality too far’. The comments were not visible to the general public and were posted outside work time but the trust said that he had broken its code of conduct by expressing religious or political views which might upset co-workers.

Mr Justice Briggs upheld his breach of contract claim but expressed disquiet at the ‘very modest’ sum in damages that he was empowered to award him, calculated on the basis of the small difference between his contractual salary and the amount actually paid to him during the 12 weeks following his demotion.

The judge said: ‘I must admit to real disquiet about the financial outcome of this case. Mr Smith was taken to task for doing nothing wrong, suspended and subjected to a disciplinary procedure which wrongly found him guilty of gross misconduct, and then demoted to a non-managerial post with an eventual 40% reduction in salary. The breach of contract which the trust thereby committed was serious and repudiatory. A conclusion that his damages are limited to less than £100 leaves the uncomfortable feeling that justice has not been done to him in the circumstances.’

He added that, had Mr Smith commenced proceedings for unfair dismissal in the employment tribunal, rather than starting an action for breach of contract in the county court, there was every reason to suppose that the tribunal would have been able - if it thought fit - to award him substantial compensation for the unfair way he was treated. If financial stringency made it practically impossible for Mr Smith to bring such proceedings, then the injustice he had suffered, although very real, was something that the court was unable to alleviate by a substantial award.