In Gould v Trustees of St John’s Downshire Hill  UKEAT 0115_17_0510 (5 October 2017) the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) ruled that a former evangelical Christian minister’s summary dismissal from his role with a London church was potentially unlawful on grounds of his marital status.
Rev Jonathan Gould, who had worked as a minister at St John’s Downshire Hill (STDH), London, for almost 21 years until his summary dismissal in August 2016, claimed that his sacking was unlawful on grounds that it was provoked by difficulties in his marriage, and constituted unlawful direct and indirect discrimination.
An employment judge had struck out his claim, saying it had no reasonable prospects of success. Gould appealed, maintaining that his marital difficulties were the reason for his dismissal, and that only a married individual could experience marital difficulties.
The respondents argued that the real reason for the dismissal was a breakdown of trust and confidence between the church trustees and Gould. Before the EAT they argued that allowing the appeal would open the door to bigamy and adultery. The EAT President, Mrs Justice Simler, observed that bigamy was a crime, and made short shrift of adultery.
She held that Gould’s marital status was a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, and that the employment judge had erred in striking his claim out.