• IE
Choose your location?
  • Global Global
  • Australian flag Australia
  • French flag France
  • German flag Germany
  • Irish flag Ireland
  • Italian flag Italy
  • Polish flag Poland
  • Qatar flag Qatar
  • Spanish flag Spain
  • UAE flag UAE
  • UK flag UK

Christian actor loses appeal against Employment Tribunal decision that her dismissal was not discriminatory

27 March 2024

Earlier this month the Employment Appeal Tribunal ("EAT") upheld a previous Tribunal decision against Seyi Omooba and its ruling for her to pay legal costs.

In the case of Omooba v Michael Garret Associates, Ms Omooba was a Christian actor due to play the lead role of Celie in the Curve Theatre's production of The Color Purple, a play based on the book by Alice Walker. She accepted this role having originally auditioned for the character of Nettie. The book depicts a romantic relationship between two women, and the Respondent's production proposed to include the relationship – unbeknownst to the Claimant at the time.

After the cast was revealed, a comment that the Claimant had posted on Facebook in 2014 was posted publicly. The comment showed Ms Omooba stating: "I do not believe homosexuality is right, though the law of this land has made it legal doesn't mean it's right". The person who posted the comment publicly asked Ms Omooba if she stood by the post given that Celie has a lesbian relationship in the story. A social media backlash ensued, calling for Ms Omooba to be removed from the cast. 

LTT Ltd, which ran the theatre, terminated Ms Omooba's contract although it offered to pay her the money that would have been due under it. MGA Ltd, Ms Omooba's representatives, also terminated its relationship with her as a result of the social media outcry. 

Ms Omooba brought claims of direct religion or belief discrimination, harassment and breach of contract against both her agency and the theatre. She acknowledged that, after reading the script post-dismissal, she would not have played the role. 

Ms Omooba's claims were all dismissed and Ms Omooba was ordered to pay legal costs. The Employment Tribunal concluded that, although her beliefs "scraped" over the threshold of being protected, her claims should fail.

In regards to the claim for direct discrimination against the theatre, it was noted that the adverse publicity meant that the play's director had concerns that Ms Omooba's beliefs meant that the central relationship in the play could not be convincingly performed, and that the audience's knowledge of her views would interfere with the suspension of disbelief required for the performance. There were also concerns that the audience may disrupt the performance, the production could be boycotted and there would be demonstrations outside the theatre regarding her comments. It was concluded that the theatre's decision to terminate was because of the adverse impact the social media storm was having on the production and its commercial viability, not because of Ms Omooba's beliefs. The tribunal also noted that the agency's decision to terminate was due to the commercial risk to its business, with the agency having considered that she had breached the duty of good faith.

Ms Omooba appealed to the EAT, who rejected her appeal and agreed with the Employment Tribunal's conclusions. 

Although Ms Omooba had confirmed that she would not have played the role in any event given the centrality of the physical lesbian relationship to the production, it remained open to the Tribunal to find whether her treatment was comparatively detrimental and thus less favourable. The Tribunal was clear that, whilst her beliefs formed part of the context, the reason for the theatre's decision to dismiss was the adverse publicity and audience reception. 

In terms of harassment, although the Claimant experienced the act of her dismissal as being "hostile", the EAT stated that the Tribunal was entitled to conclude that it was not reasonable for the conduct to have had that effect as she was aware of the serious nature of the situation and the issues the Respondent was experiencing. 

Finally, in respect of her breach of contract claim, the EAT agreed that it should fail on the basis that she had been given her full performance fee. Even if she had not, the fact that she had stated that she would not have performed once she had considered the script meant that she had not suffered any loss in any event.

Ms Omooba is now seeking permission to take her case to the Court of Appeal, stating that "the theatre world needs to be told, loud and clear, that cancelling people for their Christian beliefs is illegal and wrong". 

If you need any assistance with regard to the issues raised in this update please do not hesitate to get in touch. 

Authored by Anna McCarthy 

Further Reading