Christian pastor loses work tribunal case

Colin Houston. Image BBC
Colin Houston. Image BBC

A claim for unfair dismissal and religious belief discrimination taken by a Christian pastor has been rejected by a tribunal.

Colin Houston took the claim against Swissport, a baggage handling firm that operates at Belfast International Airport, after his temporary contract was not renewed in September 2016.

An employment tribunal heard that witnesses described as “thoughtful and credible” had “presented a coherent picture of a temporary employee who had been creating a succession of problems at work because of his aggression towards colleagues and supervisors and because of his attitude to his duties”.

The tribunal also heard that Mr Houston – who stood as a UUP councillor in the 2014 local elections in north Belfast – had told one openly gay workmate there was “a cure for gayness”.

It found: “The decision not to extend or renew the claimant’s contract of employment was a decision that any reasonable employer would have taken in these circumstances.”

Mr Houston had made a series of allegations that he was being harassed because of his Christian faith and views on gay marriage.

These included an allegation that a bumper sticker which read ‘I’m so gay I can’t even drive straight’ had been placed on his car and that “a pink female deodorant had been placed on top of his block of lockers in the restroom/locker room area”.

The tribunal dismissed these allegations, however, saying that his reaction to finding the pink deodorant “in a mixed locker room” seemed “particularly paranoid and exaggerated”.

Referring to the bumper sticker, the tribunal found: “There is no evidence on which a reasonable tribunal could properly infer that the bumper sticker had been placed on the claimant’s car at Aldergrove or that it had been placed on his car by an employee of the first-named respondent.”

The tribunal said Mr Houston did not strike them as a credible witness and did not appear to be able to understand the difference between an unsupported assumption and hard evidence.

The ruling stated that Mr Houston believes he is well-known and has a significant public profile with particular interests in relation to same-sex marriages and abortion.

However, it said none of the tribunal members had ever heard of him and it was clear that he is “not as well-known as he believes he is”.

In its findings, the tribunal ruling referred to “the reality of life for short-term employees”.

It stated: “Until you have established 52 weeks’ continuous service, your service can be terminated with little ceremony, particularly if your conduct has caused difficulty or if it has the potential to cause difficulty.”