The long-running legal battle over a bakery's refusal to bake a cake bearing a pro-same-sex marriage message reaches the Supreme Court this week.
The Christian owners of Ashers Bakery in Belfast are challenging earlier rulings that they breached equality laws by refusing to make the cake for Mr Lee, a member of QueerSpace, an LGBT advocacy group in Northern Ireland, where same-sex marriage is not legally recognised.
By way of background to the case, the Court of Appeal in Northern Ireland found in accordance with previous case law that the views or beliefs of the service provider (no matter how strong) did not exempt them from the prohibition on discriminating against someone because of a protected characteristic. Ashers Bakery argued that not being allowed to refuse to bake a cake with the slogan "support gay marriage" is against their article 9 (freedom to manifest one's religion or beliefs) and article 10 (freedom of expression) rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Supreme Court will determine how the rights of Mr Lee under the Equality Act 2010 and the rights of Mr and Mrs McArthur of Ashers under the ECHR should be balanced and therefore, whether Ashers did unlawfully discriminate against Mr Lee.
Interestingly, Mr Lee has sought to bring his claim of discrimination linked to sexual orientation on the basis of his association with the gay community, as opposed to the fact that he is gay himself. The Supreme Court will therefore also need to consider whether this is an associative discrimination case at all.
The Equality Act 2010 sets out nine protected characteristics: age, race, disability, sex, sexual orientation, gender reassignment, religion or belief, marital status and pregnancy or maternity. Treating someone unfavourably because of a protected characteristic constitutes direct discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.
From an employer's perspective, it is important that your employees are trained on the Equality Act 2010, what the protected characteristics are, and the claims that could be brought against the company and individuals themselves if they conduct themselves in a manner which is in breach, whether with customers or colleagues.
Claire and Rebecca in our employment team can deliver diversity and inclusion training to your employees in-house. If this is something that would be of interest to you, please contact the team on 029 2048 2288 Keep an eye on our Twitter feed for all the latest employment news and updates on this case.
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