On the 9th July the Court of Appeal handed down judgment in the above case involving a Christian Bed and Breakfast owner and a homosexual couple. Mrs Wilkinson, the owner, had appealed a decision of the Slough County Court which had held that she had directly discriminated against a homosexual couple who wanted to stay at her B & B.

Background

Mrs Wilkinson runs a B & B from three of the seven rooms in her family home. Her policy is to provide double bedrooms to married heterosexual couples; this, she claims, is due to her Christian beliefs.

In March 2010, Mr Black booked a double room at the B & B. Mr Black arrived with Mr Morgan later that month. Mrs Wilkinson would not accommodate them in a double bedroom as they were both men. She refunded their deposit and they left.

There is no defence to sexual orientation direct discrimination; it is possible to justify an indirect discrimination policy by reference to matters other than the claimant’s sexual orientation.

In his judgement, the Master of the Rolls considered direct and indirect discrimination. He felt bound to follow the case of Hall v Bull [2012] 2 All ER 1017 which had found direct discrimination in similar circumstances.

The Master of the Rolls said that the policy of restricting rooms to married couples discriminated indirectly against homosexual couples. In the first instance Court Mrs Wilkinson had sought to justify this on the basis that it was ‘a proportionate means of fulfilling her legitimate aim of “holding a genuine and protected legitimate religious belief”’. On this point the Master of the Rolls agreed with the first instance judge that the balance was in the favour of the couple in the case, for these reasons:

  1. It was right to give ‘considerable weight to the balance struck’ by the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007, under which the discrimination claim had been brought, which ‘gives priority to religious belief, but only in certain narrowly circumscribed circumstances
  1. The impact on Mrs Wilkinson of holding that her policy is contrary to the regulations. The Master said that if she was prevented from denying the use of double rooms to homosexual couples then she was prevented from offering double rooms at all, and that this ‘restriction on her business would be commercially damaging to her’. However he concluded that ‘If she wished to show that a restriction of her rights would cause her serious economic harm, then the burden was on her to do so’. He concluded she had not done so.

This case followed the other similar case, Hall v Bull. The discussion by the judge on the issue of indirect discrimination and, in particular, possible justification is interesting for those interested in this area of the law and practice.

Although there are some examples of religious exemptions, such as religious organisations restricting use of their premises, offering services to the public needs to be done in light of the Equality Act 2010.

If you have any queries regarding discrimination law please contact Alice Lane.

 

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