You are here

Methodists appeal against unfair dismissal ruling

28 March 2011

The Methodist Church has said it will appeal against an EAT ruling that its ministers are employees and can claim unfair dismissal.

Kenneth Howcroft, assistant secretary of the Methodist Conference, said: “As it stands, Methodist ministers are office holders, not employees, of the church and have legal rights of redress under long-established, procedural channels.”

Giving judgment in Moore v President of the Methodist Conference (UKEAT 0219/10/DM), Mr Justice Underhill said that Haley Moore, a Methodist minister in Redruth, Cornwall, resigned in 2009 “following various problems of which we do not know the details”.

Underhill J said she felt she was put under “unfair pressure” to resign and lodged a claim for unfair dismissal against the president of the Methodist Conference. The claim was rejected by an employment tribunal in Truro.

The tribunal relied, in coming to its conclusion, on a previous case involving Methodists: President of the Methodist Church Conference v Parfitt [1984] ICR 176.

The EAT heard that Moore was appointed superintendent minister on the Redruth circuit for a five-year term starting in September 2006, though she was given “nothing in the nature of a written contract of employment”.

Underhill J said it was clear that if the facts of the case were examined “untrammelled by Parfitt” the arrangements between Moore and the church were contractual in character, involving offer and acceptance of a post for a specific period.

He said the arrangements fell “squarely” within Lord Nicholls’ description in the leading case of Percy v Board of National Mission of the Church of Scotland [2006] ICR 134.

In that case, the majority of law lords ruled that the minister involved was working under a contract of employment.

Underhill J said the EAT did not see “any more than Lord Nicholls, Lord Hoffmann or Lady Hale did, any necessary incompatibility between being the servant of God and being an employee of the church”.

He went on: “Once it is accepted that there is nothing in the claimant’s spiritual role which is inconsistent with her being an employee, and once the question whether there was anything special about the nature of the claimant’s remuneration is decided, all the indications point one way.

“She received regular remuneration, including an entitlement to sick pay. She was given accommodation. She was required to engage in an appraisal process, was subject to at least a degree of supervision from the church and was liable to a disciplinary procedure.

“Although she did not have to work set hours, there was a clear concept of working time, when she was at the disposal of the church, and holiday, when she was not. Of course, like any professional she had a great deal of discretion as to how she did her work, but that is in no way inconsistent with a contract of service.”

Mr Justice Underhill allowed Moore’s appeal and remitted the case to an employment tribunal to determine her claim of unfair dismissal on its merits.

Rachael Maskell, national officer at the union Unite, which claims to have 2,500 ‘faith worker’ members, said: “This case exposes the medieval attitude to employment law adopted by the hierarchies of various denominations in this country.

“They need to wake up and smell the coffee. The steps that Ms Moore has taken have really opened the door for all ministers of religion.”

Categorised in:

Termination Road traffic