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Housing manager who criticised gay marriage wrongly dismissed

Breach of contract 'serious and repudiatory', High Court decides

16 November 2012

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The High Court has ruled that a housing manager who described gay marriage on his Facebook page as “an equality too far” should not have been demoted.

Adrian Smith, a practicing Christian and lay preacher, was suspended from work on full pay, subjected to a disciplinary investigation and told he had been guilty of gross misconduct for which he deserved to be dismissed.

However, the court heard that because of Smith’s “long record of loyal service” he was demoted to a non-managerial post, with a 40 per cent salary cut phased in over two years.

Ruling in Smith v Trafford Housing Trust [2012] EWHC 3221 (Ch) that the housing manager’s demotion amounted to wrongful dismissal, Mr Justice Briggs said: “I must admit to real disquiet about the financial outcome of this case.

“Mr Smith was taken to task for doing nothing wrong, suspended and subjected to a disciplinary procedure which wrongly found him guilty of gross misconduct, and then demoted to a non-managerial post with an eventual 40 per cent reduction in salary.

“The breach of contract which the Trust thereby committed was serious and repudiatory. A conclusion that his damages are limited to less than £100 leaves the uncomfortable feeling that justice has not been done to him in the circumstances.”

The court heard that Smith’s comments were posted on Sunday morning, in response to a BBC online story.

One of his colleagues, who was also a Facebook friend, asked Smith if his “equality too far” comment meant he did not approve of gay marriage.

Later that evening, Smith posted a more detailed comment saying that “the bible is quite specific that marriage is for men and women” and he could not understand why people with no faith would want a church wedding.

Mike Judge, a spokesman for The Christian Institute, which backed Smith’s legal action, said: “This is a good day for free speech. But would Adrian have won his case if marriage had already been redefined? I don’t think so.

“The government should stop playing politics with marriage, because it’s ordinary people like Adrian who’ll get it in the neck.”

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