March 28, 2007

Employee claims she was unfairly dismissed for being a witch

A teaching assistant is claiming that she was unfairly dismissed because of the fact that she is a witch. Sommer De La Rosa told an Employment Tribunal that her employers feared that she would “brainwash” students with her pagan beliefs.

She also claims that other teachers shunned her because of her faith. De La Rosa, who practises pagan religion Wicca, claims one teacher told her to stop wearing her pentagram necklace, a traditional pagan symbol.

She was sacked last May after nine months at Dorothy Stringer Secondary School in Brighton. While she is claiming that she was unfairly dismissed the school and Brighton and Hove Council say she was sacked because of poor attendance record and “inappropriate disclosures” to students.

The tribunal continues.

The Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003 are designed to prevent discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief. The Regulations define religion or belief as any “religion, religious belief, or similar philosophical belief.

This, says Martin Brewer and Anna Youngs of Mills & Reeve Solicitors, in Workplace Law Network's Discrimination Law: Special Report, “tells us very little”. They go on to explain that the notes to the Regulations say that a religion or belief does not include any philosophical or political belief unless that belief is “similar” to a religious belief. The guidance also adds that courts and tribunals may consider a number of factors when deciding what is a “religion or belief”. For example, whether there is collective worship, whether there is a clear belief system and whether the individual’s belief is profound enough so that it affects their way of life or their view of the world.

As a note of warning Brewer and Youngs add: “It can be seen that the circumstances which can give rise to claims under the Regulations are many and varied. A wise employer will consult with his staff before implementing any change of terms or, for example, introducing a new policy, in order to ensure that it does not impinge upon their religious freedoms. That same wise employer will also be prepared to be flexible so as to avoid litigation.”


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