A Christian NHS worker who was suspended for giving a book to a Muslim colleague has challenged a ruling that the decision to discipline her was lawful, saying it is against her freedom to express her religious beliefs.
Victoria Wasteney, 39, was accused of “harassing and bullying” a work friend for giving her a book about a Muslim woman’s encounter with Christianity, praying with her and asking her to church.
Lawyers for Ms Wasteney, a senior occupational therapist with East London NHS Foundation Trust, have challenged a ruling by an employment tribunal last year that the decision to discipline her was lawful, arguing that she was discriminated against because she was found to have harassed her colleague by “manifesting her faith”.
Paul Diamond, representing Ms Wasteney at the employment appeal tribunal in central London, argued that the employment tribunal had failed to correctly consider her rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.
“What Ms Wasteney did – giving her a book, praying for her, inviting her to church – are totally lawful acts of everyday human nature,” he said.
Ms Wasteney became friends with the new junior colleague, a Muslim, in 2012, the pair sharing an interest in their faiths and campaigning against human trafficking.
In April 2013 Ms Wasteney offered her a book, I Dared To Call Him Father, about a Muslim’s conversion to Christianity. The woman accepted it, though later threw it away.
The following month, after the woman went to Ms Wasteney for help after becoming upset at work, she briefly prayed for her, putting her hand on her knee while doing so after seeking her permission.
Ms Wasteney invited her to church several times, texting her in a friendly manner. But in June the woman complained, and Ms Wasteney was immediately suspended.
She was later given a written warning for “harassing and bullying” her colleague.
The woman, who quit her job shortly after the complaint, never gave any evidence, Mr Diamond said.
Ben Collins QC, for the NHS, argued the tribunal had made its decision using laws under the Equality Act rather than human rights legislation. Judgment has been reserved.
Case ‘troubling’, says NI evangelical leader
A leading Northern Ireland evangelical has expressed support for Victoria Wasteney, who has been disciplined for sharing her Christian faith with a Muslim work colleague.
Peter Lynas of the Evangelical Alliance said: “This is another concerning case. A key part of being a Christian is telling people the life-changing news about Jesus and trying to help them.
“For an NHS Trust to see this as harassing and bullying is troubling and I hope the courts will overturn this decision.
“Equality policies should not be misused to prevent normal conversations about faith.
“While these cases are worrying, I always remind people that they are in the news because they are unusual.
“Most employers understand that to stop Christians talking about their faith would be discrimination.”
Simon Calvert of the Christian Institute added: “There do seem to be vital issues of freedom at stake in this case and we must hope the tribunal will take all these issues into account and give a ruling that protects peoples’ rights to talk in a reasonable way about belief at work.”