Mitcham Christian who refused to work on Sundays loses Court of Appeal battle
A devout Christian who claimed she was illegally forced out of her job after refusing to work on Sundays has lost her case in the Court of Appeal.
Celestina Mba, a former Merton care worker at Brightwell Children’s centre in Morden, claimed Merton Council had agreed that she would not have to work on Sundays due to her beliefs, but later went back on their promise by allocating her Sunday shifts and threatening disciplinary measures if she did not comply.
Miss Mba, from Mitcham, took her case to an employment tribunal in February 2012 claiming constructive dismissal and that the council had unlawfully discriminated against her.
However the judge ruled in the council’s favour claiming that having Sunday's off work was "not a core component of Christian faith".
Later that decision was upheld Mr Justice Langstaff at the High Court in December 13, 2012, leading Miss Mba to take her case to the Court of Appeal where her case was heard on October 23.
Today the Court of Appeal ruled in favour of Merton Council dismissing Miss Mba's claims but did recognise that for many Sunday observance is a valid expression of their faith and admitted their had been "legal errors" in the testing Merton Council's decision.
Councillor Stephen Alambritis, leader of Merton Council said: "We are pleased with the outcome of this case.
"Children in local authority care who have severe disabilities and who need weekend support, and their families who rely on this support, can feel reassured that their children’s care and support will be consistent.
"It is vital that these children are looked after by carers who are familiar with their needs and are available to provide round the clock care over the weekend.
"Wherever possible, we accommodate our employees’ needs and requirements.
"Councils like Merton provide many services during the week and at weekends, and we work to rotas to ensure we have suitable staff on duty at all times and that the rotas are fair and lawful for employees."
Following the decision Miss Mba, said: "They were trying to break my faith and see if I really believed in the Lord’s Day. "Merton disrespected my Christian faith.
"I said to the Court that the Council would not treat other faiths like they treat Christians. "It was like giving pork to a Muslim every meal-time and then disciplining them for not eating it.
"If they really needed someone to work on a Sunday, they should have recruited that person and I would have been glad to leave.
"I had offered to take unpopular shifts and work anti-socials in order to protect Sundays."
Despite the case's dismissal the Christian Legal Centre, which has supported Miss Mba throughout, claimed it was a "big step forward".
Andrea Minichiello Williams, barrister and director of the Christian Legal Centre, said: "We believe if the Court of Appeal had been prepared to consider the facts according to the correct test, Celestina would have won.
"The onus should be on the employer to reasonably accommodate their employee.
"However, this judgement is a big step forward for proper treatment of Christians and is an important victory.
"At last the courts are beginning to demonstrate greater understanding of what it means to be a Christian.
"Christian identity extends beyond private belief into daily life.
"We pray that the tide is turning."
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