Ladele v London Borough of Islington (2009)

At a glance

  • Ms Ladele, a Christian registrar, was not discriminated against on the grounds of religious belief after she was subject to disciplinary proceedings for refusing to carry out same sex civil partnerships.
  • Employers have a legal duty to ensure employees perform their full responsibilities to meet its own legal obligations under relevant legislation and regulations.


Ms Ladele is an orthodox Christian, who worked for the London Borough of Islington council (Council) as a Registrar of Births, Marriages, and Deaths.

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 (Act) came into force on 5 December 2005, introducing civil partnerships between same sex partners. Around that time the Council designated all their registrars as civil partner registrars. Ms Ladele, due to her religious beliefs, refused to carry out civil partnerships.

The Council had a ‘Dignity for All’ equality and diversity policy which provided that there should be equality and freedom from discrimination and harassment (on the grounds, among others, of sexual orientation and religious belief) for all staff, that complaints of discrimination would be promptly and thoroughly addressed and recorded, and that, where a complaint was established, appropriate action would be taken.

The Council commenced disciplinary proceedings against Ms Ladele for her refusal to carry out work in relation to the civil partnership service and Ms Ladele was found guilty of gross misconduct. The Council repeated an offer it had made previously that Ms Ladele could be excused from officiating at civil partnership ceremonies but that she would have to carry out other civil partnership duties, and said that if Ms Ladele refused to perform those duties, it would consider terminating her employment.

Ms Ladele issued a claim in the Employment Tribunal (ET), alleging that she had suffered direct discrimination, indirect discrimination and harassment on grounds of her religion or belief.

The outcome

The ET upheld her complaints of direct and indirect discrimination, and harassment on the grounds of religion or belief. They were upheld on the basis that the requirement that all registrars should carry out civil partnership ceremonies and registration duties was an indirectly discriminatory provision, criterion or practice that could not be justified.

However, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) overturned the ET’s decision and held that the ET had erred in law, and the Court of Appeal dismissed Ms Ladele’s appeal.

The EAT held that Ms Ladele was not directly discriminated against since the Council required all registrars to conduct civil partnership ceremonies for same sex unions. Ms Ladele was treated the same as her fellow colleagues and was not treated less favourably. The Court of Appeal agreed.

With respect to Ms Ladele’s claim of indirect discrimination, the EAT held, and the Court of Appeal upheld, that there had been a justifiable disadvantage through the Council’s ‘Dignity for All’ policy. The Council was able to satisfy their policy by ensuring that all of their registrars conducted civil partnerships. The policy introduced by the Council did not impinge on Ms Ladele’s religious beliefs, as she was still able to hold those beliefs and worship as she wished.

The Court of Appeal in its decision addressed the effect of the Equality Act (Sexual Orientation) Regulations 2007, which made it unlawful to discriminate against someone on the grounds of sexual orientation in the provision of services to the public. Ms Ladele’s refusal to perform civil partnership ceremonies as the public registrar would have been unlawful discrimination under these regulations. The Council was, therefore, entitled to urge Ms Ladele to carry out her duties required under the law and regulations.

“Ms Ladele’s proper and genuine desire to have her religious views relating to marriage respected should not… override the council’s concern to ensure that all its registrars manifest equal respect for the homosexual community as for the heterosexual community”.

What does this mean for employers?

This is an early case involving conflicting protected characteristics that pre-dates the Equality Act 2010. It nonetheless serves as a reminder of the difficulties employers can face when trying to balance different protected characteristics in the workplace. It is also a reminder of the benefit of having an equality and diversity policy – in this case the Council was able to rely on its policy in support of its legitimate aim in defending Ms Ladele’s indirect discrimination claim.

Employers and companies should note that this case is one of many which decided that dismissing an employee for not carrying out contractual duties under their contract is not direct or indirect discrimination. It may in fact be reasonable for an employer to ensure an employee complies with its non-discriminatory policies and practices, although this may offend or conflict with the beliefs of the individual.

Ladele v London Borough of Islington [2009] EWCA Civ 1357