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Methodist ministers are employees, appeal judges rule

21 December 2011

Methodist ministers are employees and have the same unfair dismissal rights as other workers, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

Haley Moore, a Methodist minister in Redruth, Cornwall, claimed unfair dismissal in 2009.

The claim was rejected by an employment tribunal in Truro but Mr Justice Underhill at the EAT ruled earlier this year that there was “no necessary incompatibility between being the servant of God and being an employee of the church”.

Underhill J relied on Percy, the leading House of Lords case which involved a sex discrimination claim against the Church of Scotland (see, 28 March 2011).

Giving the leading judgment at the Court of Appeal in Moore v President of the Methodist Conference [2011] EWCA Civ 1581, Lord Justice Maurice Kay said the EAT ruling contained a “masterly and detailed analysis of the authorities” and he agreed with the conclusion to which it led.

Maurice Kay LJ said he was doubtful whether giving a claimant contractual or statutory remedies interfered with his or her rights to freedom of religion under article 9 of the ECHR.

He said that counsel for the Methodist Conference, when asked to explain how the existence of a contract of employment might interfere with the rights of Methodists to “manifest their religious belief”, referred only to the implications of accountability in an employment tribunal and the financial costs involved.

“I am sorry to say that, to my mind, this only serves to emphasise the unattractiveness and moral poverty of the attempted invocation of article 9 in this case,” Maurice Kay LJ said.

“The EAT concluded that it is not a case where the evidence establishes that the existence of a contract of employment between the church and a minister is contrary to its tenets and it could not conceive that any claim within the jurisdiction of the employment tribunal would require it to determine disputed issues of doctrine. I entirely agree.”

Lord Justice Maurice Kay dismissed the appeal. Long Justice Longmore and Sir David Keene agreed.

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