Man demoted for Facebook posting opposing gay marriage wins breach of contract action
Published 16/11/2012 | 19:38
A Christian man who was stripped of his managerial post after suggesting gay marriages in church represented "an equality too far" has emerged victorious in a high court case against his employer.
Adrian Smith posted his comments on the proposed same-sex marriage legislation on his Facebook profile page last year. The Trafford Housing Trust then subjected him to a disciplinary procedure which “wrongly found him guilty of gross misconduct” for expressing views which could upset co-workers, and issued him a final written warning.
After six years of working for the Trust, the 55-year-old from Bury had his life “turned upside down” and his salary reduced from more than £35,000 to £21,000.
Mr Smith’s breach of contract action was brought to London's High Court, where Mr Justice Briggs ruled the trust had acted unlawfully in demoting him.
Campaigners heralded a “victory for free speech and fair play” following the verdict, but Mr Smith’s response was more muted after being awarded less than £100 despite having suffered a 40 per cent cut to his earnings.
“Something has poisoned the atmosphere in Britain, where an honest man like me can be punished for making perfectly polite remarks about the importance of marriage,” he said in a statement.
“I have won today. But what will tomorrow bring? I am fearful that, if marriage is redefined, there will be more cases like mine - and if the law of marriage changes people like me may not win in court.
“Does the Prime Minister want to create a society where people like me, people who believe in traditional marriage, are treated as outcasts?”
Mr Smith’s “living nightmare” began in February 2011, when he expressed his disagreement with a BBC article headlined “Gay church marriages to get go ahead” in a post that was only visible to friends and friends of friends, and posted outside of work hours. When a colleague questioned the post, he replied: “I don't understand why people who have no faith and don't believe in Christ would want to get hitched in church.
“The Bible is quite specific that marriage is for men and women. If the state wants to offer civil marriage to the same sex then that is up to the state; but the state shouldn't impose its rules on places of faith and conscience.”
Gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell said: “This is not a particularly homophobic viewpoint,” adding: “In a democratic society, Adrian has a right to express his point of view, even if it is misguided and wrong.”
Andy Wasley, from LGB rights charity Stonewall, said: “We’ll read the full ruling with interest, but the treatment of Mr Smith did seem a little heavy-handed given that he had temperately expressed his point of view, however disagreeable that point of view might be to many.”
Mr Justice Briggs explained that the “very modest” damages were equivalent to the difference between his contractual salary and the amount actually paid to him during the 12 weeks following his assumption of a less senior role.
Had he taken his case to an Employment Tribunal, he could have received substantial compensation, but Mr Smith said: “I didn't do this for the money - I did this because there is an important principle at stake.”
A spokesman for the Christian Institute, which funded the legal action, said: “The terms bigot and homophobe are bandied about freely when people have sensible and reasonable disagreements.”
Matthew Gardiner, chief executive at Trafford Housing Trust said: “We fully accept the court's decision and I have made a full and sincere apology to Adrian. At the time we believed we were taking the appropriate action following discussions with our employment solicitors and taking into account his previous disciplinary record.
“We had tried to come to a settlement with Mr Smith which would have resulted in him receiving 10 times the amount he was claiming, but he chose to reject this offer.”