CASE TYPE: Jobs under threat for religious expression in the workplace

Chris

Chris is a government employee who had worked with his department for 30 years. Some staff, supported by the Department, frequently circulated emails promoting LGBT issues including an encouragement to attend and support “pride” functions. Chris contacted these staff and asked them to take him off that particular email list because he found the emails offensive on cultural and religious grounds. He also directed them to the department protocols indicating his right not to receive offensive emails. The staff he contacted stated that they were not able to take him off the email list, as it was a staff wide distribution list that they were using.

Soon after this Chris was summoned to a meeting with HR to discuss this issue. At the meeting he was informed that it was actually a discipline meeting. Chris was not told this earlier and therefore had no chance to bring a representative to help him defend himself. Chris was told that HR was complaining about his conduct and that the department was pursuing disciplinary action against him. Chris had received no complaints about his conduct from colleagues, and he had worked productively with LGBT colleagues previously with no issues. At the end of the meeting HR stated that the department intended to pursue the matter.

It was only after Chris obtained legal advice and had a letter sent to his department showing Chris’s legal right under a Federal Supreme Court ruling to express his views on these matters that the department informed Chris that it was no longer pursuing the complaint against him. Chris was never asking for the e-mails not to be sent, merely that they not be sent to him. This was enough for his HR department to pursue him to the point of official discipline.

Chris noticed that some staff members began avoiding him after this incident. Around a year later, Chris was dismissed on the basis of performance issues despite 30 years of previous unblemished service. Chris requested the details of his alleged performance lapses but they were never given to him.

Chris still has not been able to find another job, and being too young to retire is unable to draw upon his superannuation. Chris was also unable to receive unemployment benefits, and therefore was required to live on his savings, which are close to being exhausted.

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