Randall v Trent College (2020)

At a glance

  • An Employment Tribunal (ET) rejected a school chaplain’s claim for religion or belief discrimination based on the school’s negative reaction to sermons in which he said that pupils did not have to accept the ideas and ideologies of LGBT+ activists where they conflict with Christian values but should make up their own minds.
  • The ET held that Mr Randall’s treatment was not because of his beliefs, but because of his objectionable manifestation of them.


Mr Randall was employed by Trent College (School) as its Chaplain.

In 2016, Mr Randall delivered multiple sermons on gender equality, gay marriage,  and LGBT+ rights to pupils in which he implied that it is a sin to alter the body given by God, that marriage can only be between a man and a woman, that families work best when a woman looks after the children and the majority of Christians believe homosexuality is sinful unless homosexuals remain celibate.

These sermons resulted in numerous complaints from staff, students and parents and the concerns were discussed with Mr Randall during his performance development review. Mr Randall was told these were sensitive topics that should only be dealt with in a classroom setting where ideas can be discussed and challenged and that dealing with them in chapel (where there was no discussion) risked distress and psychological harm to vulnerable pupils.

In 2018, the School provided an ‘Educate and Celebrate’ programme to all its pupils which aimed at tackling homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying and ingrained attitudes in schools. Mr Randall opposed the programme at the time, describing it as ‘identity politics’ which were contrary to Christian teaching and went beyond tackling bullying.

Following the Educate and Celebrate programme, in 2019 Mr Randall delivered two sermons to children in which he suggested that pupils did ‘not have to accept the ideas and ideologies of LGBT activists’, that some ‘LGBT activists’ will happily lie about gender identity being a protected characteristic, that no one has the right to tell them to lie and that is the tactic of totalitarianism and dictatorship. Pupils heard the fundamental message that, in essence, it was wrong to be LGBT+ and religious belief allowed them to discriminate.

These sermons were met with further complaints and were contrary to the School’s regulatory duties. As a result, the School carried out an investigation and disciplinary process before dismissing Mr Randall in August 2019 for gross misconduct. On appeal, he was reinstated subject to compliance with management instructions and issued with a final written warning.

On 20 April 2020 Mr Randall was furloughed as a result of the Covid19 pandemic and subsequently dismissed by reason of redundancy on 10 November 2020.

Mr Randall brought claims for direct discrimination, harassment, victimisation on the grounds of his religion or belief under the Equality Act 2010 (EqA) and a claim for unfair dismissal against the School. He also cited interference with his freedom of belief and freedom of expression under Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention of Human Rights.


The claims brought under the EqA failed, as did the claim for unfair dismissal.

The ET concluded that it was not Mr Randall’s beliefs or their manifestation which was the reason for or a substantial cause of his treatment, but rather it was reasons separable from them. It was because of the time, the place and to whom he expressed his beliefs and because the manner in which he expressed them was objectionable.

The ET were particularly conscious of the nature of the school and the importance of its safeguarding duties to its pupils. The ET found that Mr Randall’s position of authority, trust and delivery of sermons did not facilitate the appropriate environment for such topics. It was also noted that Mr Randall used inflammatory language with many pejorative terms which were upsetting and could potentially cause harm.

The ET also noted that Mr Randall embarked on his sermons in the full knowledge that they were very likely to have an adverse impact on his audience having already been warned of the risks and that he had deliberately chosen not to share the topic of his sermons with the School in advance, knowing that he would have been told not to deliver them. The School’s continued efforts to educate Mr Randall on the potential harm of his sermons and attempts to work with him to address concerns were recognised as evidence of the School’s reasonableness and proportionality and further, that Mr Randall had chosen to disregard this advice and support.

The ET found that the School had been justified in objecting to the way Mr Randall manifested his beliefs, given the duty to safeguard children from the risk of harm and the School’s statutory duties to pupils.

In relation to the claim of unfair dismissal, the ET found that Mr Randall’s dismissal was by reason of genuine redundancy. The requirement of the School for Mr Randall to carry out chaplaincy work had ceased or diminished to the extent that the decision to dismiss him fell within the range of reasonable responses of a reasonable employer in those circumstances.

“This case is a useful illustration of the factors which may be considered when looking at whether the manifestation of a belief is justifiably objectionable.”

What does this mean for employers

Whilst there is a clear protection of the protected characteristic of religion or belief, it will not amount to direct discrimination if the reason an employer takes action against a worker is not because they hold a particular religion or belief, but because of the objectively inappropriate way in which they have manifested their religion or belief.  If the consequences of the objectionable manifestation, however,  are not such as to justify the action taken, this will not be treated as separate from an objection to the belief itself, and an unobjectionable manifestation of a belief will also not be treated as separate from the belief itself.

The fact that the manifestation of a belief may cause offence does not make it objectionable, what needs to be considered is whether the manifestation of a belief is justifiably objectionable and, although only a first instance decision, this case illustrates some of the factors that an ET may consider in addressing that question.

Randall v Trent College Ltd  (ET 2600288/2020)