A decision by the Supreme Court that a bakery’s refusal to decorate a cake with a same sex marriage wasn’t discriminatory has once again highlighted the need for businesses to have strong and robust equality policies.
The ruling on the so-called ‘gay cake’ saga is the latest development in a long running court battle that is believed to have cost Asher’s Bakery in Northern Ireland £200,000 in legal fees.
Our Employment Partner Julia Fitzsimmons gives her response and advice to employers:
This case started when the bakery refused to make a cake bearing a slogan supporting same-sex marriage on the basis that to do so would compromise the Christian beliefs of the owners.
The customer, who was a gay rights activist backed by the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, sued the bakery for discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation and political beliefs and won.
The bakery, which has always insisted its objection was to the message on the cake, not the customer who had been served there before, appealed and lost.
But five judges in the Supreme Court have unanimously overturned the decision, ruling that the refusal was not on the grounds of the customer’s sexual orientation as any customer requesting a cake with those words would have been refused.
This has certainly been an expensive cake – Asher’s legal fees stand at £200,000 and the commission has incurred costs of £250,000.
It’s also a salutary lesson for employers. Whilst this may be an exceptional case, employees need clear guidance on how they should provide the business’s goods or services so they comply with equality and employment regulations.
In light of this case, employers should look careful at their policies and seek legal guidance if they are unsure about whether issues surrounding equality and discrimination in relation to both religious beliefs and sexual orientation are adequately addressed.
For more information, Julia can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org or 01952 208420.