Your marriage or your job

24 Jun 2016

Mrs Pendleton is a teacher.  She was employed by Derbyshire County Council at Glebe Junior School where she was highly regarded by students, colleagues and parents alike. Her husband was Head Teacher of a nearby junior school who in January 2013 was arrested on suspicion of downloading indecent images of children and of voyeurism. This came as a bolt from the blue for Mrs Pendleton who took leave of absence to reflect with her parents on her future. Her Head Teacher gave assurances that her job would remain open.

A LADO meeting found no evidence Mrs Pendleton had any knowledge of or involvement in her husband’s behaviour but the Council said it struggled to see how it could support her if she remained with her husband.  A second LADO meeting was convened and resolved to take disciplinary action if she continued to stand by her husband on the basis this could be seen as condoning his behaviour.

A month later (before Mr Pendleton was convicted of anything) County Hall told Mrs Pendleton that if she intended to stay with her husband there’d be consequences.  She asked if she was being invited to choose between her marriage and her career.  The response was shrugs and raised eyebrows followed by a charge of potential gross misconduct. 

The Council didn’t investigate its concerns with parents or others and its HR Director wrote:

“as long as she stands by her husband the LA has a clear view that she is not suitable to be a teacher.”

Mrs Pendleton was dismissed because she chose to stand by her husband in contravention to the ethos of Glebe Junior School.

The employment tribunal found the dismissal both wrongful and unfair but it dismissed a claim of indirect belief discrimination because it found Mrs Pendleton would have been dismissed irrespective of her belief in the sanctity of her marriage vows; that was the Council’s policy and its mind was closed.  While the EAT was comfortable with that, it went on to say there hadn’t been proper regard to the comparative effect of the Council’s policy on relevant groups or the particular disadvantage that would be suffered by those pressured to act contrary to their belief in the sanctity of their marriage vows.  So Mrs Pendleton won her appeal and the EAT made a finding of indirect belief discrimination. 

Last year the Department for Education revised it’s guidance on disqualification criteria (see my post on 16/1/15) so I guess we’ll be seeing more of this.