We reported in an earlier newsletter about the interesting case involving Asher's bakery in Northern Ireland. The people who run the bakery are Christians and hit the news headlines when they refused to bake a cake decorated with 'Bert and Ernie' from the children's tv show Sesame Street which was to contain the words 'Support Gay Marriage'.
The bakery would not make the cake due to their religious beliefs. The person who ordered the cake brought a discrimination claim against them in the Northern Irish courts and was successful in his claim. Mr Lee, who wanted to order the cake is gay and his claim was based on sexual discrimination. The bakery company appealed the decision and the case was recently considered by the Supreme Court. Mr Lee's appeal was supported by the Equality Commission.
The Court found that the bakery's objection had nothing to do with Mr Lee's sexual orientation but rather, the message that he proposed for the cake. The Court found that the bakery would have refused to make a cake carrying this slogan if the person ordering it had been heterosexual. The Court also determined that the bakery would have been happy to make Mr Lee a cake with a different slogan. There was no evidence that Asher's bakery discriminated against gay people. Accordingly, there was no sexual discrimination and the bakery's appeal was successful.
The BBC reports some interesting financial statistics about the case as follows: cost of the cake: £36.50. Asher's bakery legal fees: £200,000. Equality Commission legal fees: £250,000. An expensive point of principle indeed!
But it is an important point of principle. Businesses must ensure that they do not discriminate against their customers and the 'gay cake' case as it has become known, is a good illustration of the fine line that these decisions can rest on.
All businesses should review their policies and ensure that all staff are aware of the policies and the extent to which customers and their business can be lawfully refused.
To discuss this or any other employment related issue, contact us.