Christian Celestina Mba who refused to work Sundays loses High Court challenge vs Merton Council
A devout Christian has been told by a senior High Court judge she was not unfairly forced out of her job because she refused to work on Sundays.
Celestina Mba, from Mitcham, had claimed Merton Council unlawfully discriminated against her while she worked as a residential care officer at the Brightwell children’s centre in Morden.
The 57-year-old lost an employment tribunal in February for constructive dismissal, when a judge ruled it was “not a core component of Christian faith” to have an entire Sunday off work.
At the High Court on December 13, Mr Justice Langstaff - the country’s most senior judge in this area of employment law - upheld the tribunal’s decision.
He said a rule imposed by an employer which affected nearly every Christian would be more discriminatory than one which only affected a few.
But Andrea Minichiello Williams, director of Christian Legal Centre, said: “The court in this case created an unrealistic test which means that people like Celestina who wish to respect the Sabbath will be forced out of the workplace.
“In the past year we have seen mandatory tests of faith in relation to the wearing of crosses by Christians, belief about marriage between a man and a woman and now observing the Sabbath when in all cases reasonable accommodation could have been made.
“Such tests do not appear to be similarly applied to Muslims who are permitted to wear the hijab and observe prayers and Sikhs with the kara bracelet.”
Miss Mba said when she took the position in 2007, providing respite care for children with severe learning difficulties, managers initially agreed to accommodate the requirements of her faith.
She claimed the council pressured her to work on Sundays and threatened her with disciplinary measures, even though other workers were willing to take the shifts.
She said she found herself repeatedly allocated Sunday shifts and threatened with disciplinary measures unless she agreed to compromise her church commitments, meaning she had no alternative but to resign from the job she loved.
Her constructive dismissal case was funded by the Christian Legal Centre which instructed Paul Diamond, a leading religious rights barrister.
Yvette Stanley, Merton Council’s director of children, schools and families, said: “We are pleased with the outcome of this second tribunal. Staff recruited in the respite care service are advised that it is by its nature a weekend service.”
Speaking after losing her tribunal in February, Miss Mba said: “I am really sad for Merton Council because they have removed somebody who would have made a difference to the people who use Brightwell’s services, the children and the parents.
“I was called the sunshine of Brightwell so they have removed the sunshine that was there.”
She added: “Even though I have lost the case, I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, because it is the Gospel that sets us all free.”