Christian social worker to appeal tribunal ruling in discrimination case

Felix Ngole(Photo: The Christian Legal Centre)

A Christian social worker is to appeal against part of an employment tribunal ruling concluding that he was discriminated against by an NHS provider over the withdrawal of a job offer because of his same-sex marraige beliefs.

Felix Ngole, 46, brought the case against Touchstone Leeds with the support of the Christian Legal Centre (CLC). 

He was offered the job of a mental health support worker but it was withdrawn after Touchstone discovered through a Google search that Ngole had won a landmark legal case against Sheffield University in 2019 for being removed from a social work training course over his traditional marriage beliefs.

CLC said that Touchstone told Mr Ngole his beliefs did not "align" with their ethos as an "inclusive employer" and that he posed a risk to the organisation's reputation and service users. 

Mr Ngole was called back for a second interview where he says he was interrogated about his religious beliefs and told by Touchstone bosses that unless he could demonstrate how he would "embrace and promote homosexual rights", the job offer would not be reinstated. 

The judgment handed down this week by employment Judge Jonathan Brain says that Touchstone's "approach had a severe effect upon Mr Ngole's right to freedom of expression".

"It had a significant impact upon him as he really wanted the job. While the objective being pursued by Touchstone was of course very important, simply withdrawing the conditional job offer without giving him that opportunity went further than was reasonably necessary towards Touchstone's objective," the judgment reads.

"[Mr Ngole] was simply not in post and therefore there was no or little risk of a service user finding him through an internet search. He would simply not have been on the radar of any service user at that point."

It continues, "The reason why [Touchstone] acted as they did cannot therefore be on the grounds of objectionable expression but rather to the legitimate expression of his views. These were rooted in his religion. That is the reason why he was treated as he was. The reason why is clear."

However, Judge Brain also ruled that Touchstone's decision not to reinstate the job offer after the second interview was "proportionate" and "justified" because of its concerns for the welfare of LGBTQ service users.

"Balancing the interests of [Touchstone] in preserving the mental health of their service users against the wishes of [Mr Ngole] to work for [Touchstone] and his ability to work elsewhere gives of only one answer. The balance favours [Touchstone], and their actions were therefore proportionate and are justified," the judgement said.

Responding to the judgment, Mr Ngole said that he had "no choice" but to appeal. 

"The ruling ultimately sets a dangerous precedent as it gives employers the freedom to block Christians, and anyone who doesn't promote LGBTQI+ ideology, from employment," he said. 

"If I was discriminated against when they withdrew the job offer then I don't see how I was not also discriminated against when they refused to reinstate me after the 'second interview.'"

He continued, "It is untenable for employers to be allowed to discriminate against Christian beliefs in this way and to force individuals to promote an ideology that goes against their conscience in the workplace." 

CLC chief executive Andrea Williams called the reasoning in the judgment "contorted". 

"Judge Brain had to find that Felix Ngole had been directly discriminated against for his Christian beliefs because the evidence permitted no other conclusion. This is where the case should have ended and Felix exonerated and reinstated," she said.

"This ruling opens up the reality of employers discriminating against and denying employment to anyone who does not celebrate and promote complete LGBT affirmation.

"We are creating a society where social workers, doctors, nurses andpsychologists, for example, have to be silent or face accusations that merely holding their protected beliefs could lead to patients coming to harm."

She continued, "The Court of Appeal found that Felix had not and was unlikely to discriminate against anybody. However, this ruling concludes that just the knowledge that he holds Christian beliefs on human sexuality means he is unsuitable for employment in the NHS.

"This ruling cannot stand and it is deeply discriminatory. We will fight for Felix until he receives justice."