Social worker who was rejected for job due to views on homosexuality says he will appeal

A Christian social worker who was rejected for a job after a health charity discovered his views on homosexuality has vowed to appeal after an employment tribunal upheld part of his claim but ruled he was not discriminated against by the failure to employ him.

Felix Ngole (pictured), 46, told a hearing in Leeds in April that Touchstone Leeds discriminated against him because of his religious beliefs when they refused him the job as a hospital discharge mental health support worker, based in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, in 2022.

He had previously won a Court of Appeal case against Sheffield University which had wanted to prevent him from completing his social work degree after it became aware of a Facebook row in which he said homosexuality and same-sex marriage were a sin.

Touchstone agreed he was the best-qualified candidate for the role and offered him the job but, after management conducted a Google search and discovered the legal row about his views, the offer was withdrawn and he was called back for a second interview.

In a published written judgment, Employment Judge Jonathan Brain agreed that Mr Ngole was directly discriminated against when Touchstone rescinded the initial job offer but rejected further claims of discrimination around the second interview and the final decision not to give him the job.

The tribunal also rejected Mr Ngole’s claims of indirect discrimination and harassment which prompted the Christian Legal Centre, which supported him, to say the judgment “includes mixed and chilling conclusions for Christian freedoms and free speech”.

During the hearing earlier this year, Touchstone argued that vulnerable LGBT service-users, requiring mental health support, could be more likely to harm themselves if they found out Mr Ngole’s views about homosexuality.

But the Cameroon-born grandfather, who lives in Barnsley, argued that his religious views would not prevent him from looking after an LGBT service-user.

In the published judgment, Judge Brain said: “The expression of his beliefs rooted in his religion was a material reason for the decision taken by Touchstone to withdraw the conditional job offer on June 10 2022. The direct discrimination claim must therefore succeed.”

But the ruling went on to say: “Offering a second meeting or interview was the least intrusive way of proceeding” and “it is difficult to see how being properly questioned about that suitability once his orthodox Christian views had come to light reasonably could be considered a violation of his dignity or to create an intimidating environment for him.”

Judge Brain said: “They (Touchstone) simply could not take the risk of the discovery by a vulnerable service user of the claimant’s views. The effect upon such an individual may be potentially devastating.”

His judgment said: “Balancing the interests of the respondent in preserving the mental health of their service users against the wishes of the claimant to work for the respondent and his ability to work elsewhere gives of only one answer.

“The balance favours the respondent, and their actions were therefore proportionate and are justified.”

Mr Ngole said on Monday: “I am pleased that the tribunal found that I was discriminated against, but there are so many disturbing comments and conclusions in it as well which leaves me with no choice but to appeal.

“The ruling ultimately sets a dangerous precedent as it gives employers the freedom to block Christians, and anyone who doesn’t promote LGBTQI+ ideology, from employment.”

He said: “I have never been accused of forcing my beliefs on anyone. I have supported vulnerable individuals from all backgrounds, including LGBT.”

Mr Ngole added: “If we get to the point where if you don’t celebrate and support LGBT you can’t have a job, then every Christian out there doesn’t have a future.”

Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre called the judge’s reasoning “contorted”.

She said: “This ruling opens up the reality of employers discriminating against and denying employment to anyone who does not celebrate and promote complete LGBT affirmation.

“We are creating a society where social workers, doctors, nurses and psychologists, for example, have to be silent or face accusations that merely holding their protected beliefs could lead to patients coming to harm.”

In a statement, Touchstone said: “We very clearly and publicly pride ourselves on being a strong ally to the LGBTQI+ community, as well as all religious communities.

“We would never want to lose the trust of the communities that we work so hard to support and serve, nor are we prepared to compromise our values at any time.

“We believe we did the right thing in defending this action and acting in line with our values, with the principle aim being to protect our service users, staff, and all involved with our charity.”

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