Balancing Beliefs

The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in London recently considered whether it was discriminatory to dismiss a Christian actress from a lesbian role once social media posts in which she had previously expressed the view that homosexuality was sinful came to light. 


The Claimant, a Christian, was cast to play Celie in a production of ‘The Color Purple’, based on Alice Walker’s acclaimed novel. The book depicts a romantic relationship between two women, which the Claimant did not know at the time as she had not read the script. Had she known, she would not have accepted the role.

After being cast, a previous Facebook post written by the Claimant resurfaced and gained rapid traction. In the post, the Claimant referred to homosexuality as a sin. The theatre terminated its contract with the Claimant, as did her agency several days later. The theatre was concerned about the publicity and how this might undermine the audience’s ability to connect with the Claimant in the role of Celie. Similarly, the agency feared that the adverse publicity threatened their survival.

The letter of termination from the theatre referred to the public negativity which had arisen and emphasised that the play sought to “promote freedom and independence and to challenge views, including the view that homosexuality is a sin”. The Claimant was told that she would be paid in full regardless. 

She took the theatre and the agency to an Employment Tribunal (ET), alleging that her dismissal amounted to religion and belief discrimination, harassment, and a breach of her employment contract.  

The ET dismissed her claims, with an award of costs against the Claimant. Her contracts were not terminated based on her views but because her casting now threatened the play’s commercial success. 


The Claimant’s appeal was dismissed. The EAT held:

  • The dismissal was not due to expressing her beliefs but to the negative publicity accumulated by the post, which adversely affected the overall success of the production. 
  • In terms of harassment, although the Claimant experienced the act of her dismissal by the theatre as being hostile, the ET was entitled to conclude that it was not reasonable for the conduct to have had that effect. She was aware of the seriousness of the situation and the issues facing the theatre.
  • As she had been paid in full, there could be no breach of contract due. Further, having admitted she would not have played the role, the Claimant would not have suffered any loss, 


Claims of religion and belief discrimination require employers to delicately balance beliefs under the Equality Act 2010.

It will not always be discriminatory to dismiss an employee in circumstances where the manifestation of a belief is relevant to the dismissal but is not itself the reason for it.

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