Vindicated: The Christian teacher fired because she wouldn't leave her husband
A Christian teacher dismissed for refusing to divorce her husband has won an extraordinary religious discrimination case.
Sarah Pendleton was a teacher at Glebe Junior School in Derbyshire when her husband Matthew, head teacher at another local school, was found to have made indecent images of children using a camera disguised as a pen. He had taken it into children's changing rooms and filmed boys while they were getting changed for swimming lessons.
Pendleton was jailed for 10 months, but his wife, who had known nothing of his actions and at first, shocked and distressed, left their home to stay with her parents, was dismissed from her post after she chose to remain with him. An Anglican Christian, she said she had promised to marry "for better or worse" and would keep her vows as long as she was satisfied he had repented.
She had originally been told her job would remain open for her, but her headteacher later said she was concerned that if she stayed with her husband it could be "seen as condoning his behaviour". She was dismissed on the grounds that she had "chosen to maintain a relationship with [her] partner who has been convicted of making indecent images of children and voyeurism. This has led the panel to believe that [her] suitability to carry out the safeguarding responsibilities of [her] role ... have been eroded." Furthermore, the school said, the choices she had made in her personal life contravened the ethos of the school.
She took the school to an Employment Tribunal which found she had been unfairly dismissed. The tribunal was damning about the school, saying its investigation had been "woefully inadequate" and its decision had been "predetermined". However, it did not agree that she had faced religious discrimination because her decision to stay with her husband was motivated by her Christian faith, because she would have been dismissed whatever her motivation.
Now, however, an Employment Appeal Tribunal has found in her favour. In her ruling, Judge Eady said her religious beliefs were "an additional burden" and "a particular disadvantage" to her in making her decision and that she had faced discrimination. She said: "I do not suggest that any less respect should be given for those who are in a loving and committed relationship (whether married or not) but who do not share the same view as the Claimant as to the sanctity of marriage vows; I am simply recognising that, in these circumstances, those sharing the Claimant's belief would suffer a particular disadvantage given the crisis of conscience they would face."
Sarah Pendleton will now be entitled to compensation for unfair dismissal and religious discrimination. The amount has yet to be decided.
See Comment, Condemned for forgiving: Why a Christian teacher lost her job