Baggage handler who offered to 'cure' homosexual colleague loses claim for unfair dismissal
A pastor and baggage handler who offered to "cure" a homosexual colleague and complained about a pink tin of deodorant left on his work locker has lost a claim for unfair dismissal and religious belief discrimination.
The behaviour of former UUP council candidate and preacher Colin Robert Houston was revealed at an industrial tribunal he took against his employer at Belfast International Airport.
Mr Houston worked for Swissport at the airport until he was let go last year.
The tribunal heard that he also complained to management after a bumper sticker bearing the slogan "I'm so gay I can't even drive straight", was stuck to his car.
Mr Houston's contract with the aircraft handling company was not renewed last September following a series of incidents involving him and other staff.
He took an industrial tribunal claiming breach of contract, unfair dismissal, discrimination on grounds of religious belief, political opinion and sexual orientation.
Among the incidents detailed in the published judgment was one last August when he visited the staff toilets and saw what he described as "sickening and offensive" graffiti, which he believed targeted him as a Christian.
The tribunal ruled the graffiti was obviously offensive to anyone regardless of religion, but there was no evidence it was aimed at Mr Houston.
In another incident later that month, Mr Houston found a bumper sticker attached to his car, which said: "I'm so gay I can't even drive straight".
He claimed the sticker must have been placed while his car was in the staff car park, but the tribunal ruled that there was no evidence this was the case.
Two days after that incident, Mr Houston claimed that he noticed a tin of MUM Fresh Pink ladies' deodorant on top of his locker in the rest-room area.
He alleged that this was an act of harassment relating to his views on same sex marriage and his heterosexuality, as the colour pink is associated with homosexuality.
The tribunal panel described Mr Houston's reaction to a women's deodorant as "particularly paranoid and exaggerated".
The tribunal was also told that last September an openly gay colleague of Mr Houston's was told by him that there was a "cure for gayness".
The co-worker did not wish to make a formal complaint, preferring to "keep his head down", but the tribunal ruled that on the balance of probabilities Mr Houston did make the remark.
Mr Houston argued that his views on same sex marriage and abortion would have been obvious to staff, as he believes he has "a significant public profile as a Christian pastor".
But the tribunal panel said none of them had ever heard of him before the hearing and that in many of the newspaper articles and photographs offered as evidence he was unidentified, or was pictured as part of a group.
Mr Houston alleged that his employer did not take his claims of discrimination seriously, but the tribunal said that given his manager drafted a memorandum, signed by staff, clearly warning against such behaviour, there was nothing more the firm could do about his allegations.
The tribunal also doubted Mr Houston's credibility, stating that he "seemed to be of the view that if he said something it automatically made it the truth".
They also said that given the "catalogue of complaints" against Mr Houston, including the gay cure remark and allegations of aggressive behaviour, the temptation to end his contract "must have been overwhelming".
Following the hearing in June this year, all of his claims were dismissed.
Mr Houston, who is now a DUP supporter, was suspended and later resigned from the UUP after he voiced his support for controversial pastor James McConnell during the BBC's Nolan Live TV show in 2014.
Earlier that year, Pastor McConnell had described Islam as "heathen" and "satanic" during a sermon at his north Belfast church.