Housing worker demoted over 'gay marriage' comments on Facebook
Published by 24publishing for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Local Government
Housing Trust builds online community
A housing worker from a Manchester-based housing association has been demoted and has seen his pay cut following comments he made on Facebook about gay marriage.
Adrian Smith, who has been at Trafford Housing Trust (THT) for 18 years, is now taking his employers to court for interference with his rights to free speech and religious liberty; and for breach of contract.
Writing on his Facebook page in response to a BBC article - “Gay church marriages get go ahead” - Mr Smith wrote “an equality too far”.
Quizzed by trust colleagues on the social networking site as to what he meant, Mr Smith - who has since lost his managerial post over the row - wrote: “I don’t understand why people who have no faith and don’t believe in Christ would want to get hitched in church. The Bible is quite specific that marriage is for men and women. If the state wants to offer civil marriage to the same sex then that is up to the state; but the state shouldn’t impose its rules on places of faith and conscience”.
Colleagues later complained to managers at the trust, and after an investigation the managers started disciplinary proceedings against Mr Smith.
According to the Christian Institute, who is supporting Mr Smith in his legal bid, bosses at THT concluded that he was guilty of gross misconduct. They said they could have dismissed him, but because of his loyal service over 18 years they decided to demote him and cut his salary by 40%.
Mr Smith appealed against the decision, but it was upheld by senior managers.
He is now taking his employer to court, seeking compensation for his loss in income and a declaration that his employer’s actions are an unlawful interference with his rights to free speech and religious liberty.
Mr Smith’s solicitor, Tom Ellis of Manchester-based law firm Aughton Ainsworth, said: “Adrian was shocked and distressed to have been disciplined in this way for expressing his opinion on his Facebook page.
“He never expected this to happen, it came completely out of the blue. Adrian took it as far as he could within the Trust but it is standing by its decision.
“We sent a letter to the Trust asking that Adrian be given back his job but the Trust refused to respond substantively to our letter. Adrian had no other choice but to seek justice through the court.
“As a Christian, Adrian believes in the values of fairness, courtesy and respect for the opinions of others. These are the values of a mature and healthy society.
“Surely that leaves room for colleagues to discuss and even disagree about the topics of the day. Conversations like that happen in offices and factories up and down the country every day.
“When Adrian was told that he was being demoted with a 40% cut in salary, he was stunned. It was all the more shocking because this was being done in the name of equality and diversity.
“Nothing he said was offensive or abusive. His comments were calm, measured and reasonable. Adrian has been treated disproportionately and even those who disagree with his opinions will surely agree that he has been treated unfairly.”
A THT spokeswoman told the BBC: "At the end of 2010, we updated our Code of Conduct for Employees and provided it to all staff.
"This version of the code clearly set out what use employees can make of social networking sites such as Facebook.
"Some three months after this new code was issued, Mr Smith, without our authority or knowledge and on a Facebook page that identified him as a manager at Trafford Housing Trust, made comments that were found, by a full disciplinary investigation in which he had trade union representation, to be in breach of the company's code of conduct and other policies.
"Mr Smith was disciplined for his breach of company policy. The trust made no comment about any personal beliefs that he holds."
THT said it would "vigorously defend" itself through the county court.