ACAS Employee Wins Free Speech Case After Opposing Critical Race Theory (Sean Corby v ACAS)

In the case of Sean Corby v ACAS, Mr Corby, a senior conciliator at ACAS, successfully took his employer to an employment tribunal concerning a preliminary issue about his free speech. He claimed his criticism of critical race theory was a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010 (EqA) and had been discriminated against. 

Religious or philosophical discrimination in the workplace occurs if you are treated unfairly in the workplace because of your religious or philosophical beliefs, or because of the beliefs of someone that you are associated with (such as a child or a partner). You can find more information on religious or philosophical belief discrimination here.

The Facts In Sean Corby v ACAS

Background – The Yammer Post

Mr Corby, who describes himself as white, has a wife and children, who he describes as black. In August 2021, Mr Corby posted criticisms of critical race theory on Yammer, a private workplace communications platform. He explained he felt this theory was ‘divisive’, as it depicted white people as a problem that causes racial segregation. Instead, he believed it would be better to think as Martin Luther King did in that people should be judged on their character, not their skin colour.

Complaints Made About His Views On Critical Race Theory

Following Mr Corby’s posts that opposed critical race theory, some colleagues began complaining to managers. They argued his posts revealed “a deep-rooted hatred towards black and minority ethnic people who challenge racism”. They also said that he was “promoting racist ideas”. Following their assessment of Mr Corby’s comments, these colleagues said they wouldn’t feel safe around him, questioning his employment status.

How ACAS Responded To These Complaints

On 2 August 2022, a conciliation between Mr Corby and the managers at ACAS began. Although they dismissed the complaints made, they insisted he took his posts that opposed critical race theory down. The managers reasoned that his comments had caused offence.

Following this conciliation, Mr Corby made an unlawful discrimination claim against his employer to an employment tribunal on 23 September 2022. He stated that his religion or belief, which is a protected characteristic under the EqA 2010, had been discriminated against. The preliminary issue regarding whether his views were protected under the EqA 2010 was heard in a final hearing on the 4 to 6 September 2023. 

The Decision Of The Employment Tribunal

The employment tribunal found in favour of the Claimant, Sean Corby. They ruled that his beliefs on race and racial equality fall under a protected characteristic in the EqA 2010. 

They outlined that to come to this conclusion, they needed to determine whether:

  1. The claimant’s views were that of a philosophical belief which falls under section 10(2) of the EqA 2010
  2. These beliefs are actually a belief or merely an opinion and regard a substantial aspect concerning humans, which is serious, cogent and worthy of respect in a democratic society (forming the Grainger tests)
  3. The respondent admits that the views held by the claimant are genuine and are neutral on aspects of the belief

Applying The Grainger Test

The tribunal outlined how the claimant could explain his beliefs about race and racial equality in some detail. They said he had clearly considered these beliefs, which opposed critical race theory, through comprehensive reading about the subject and his own experiences. 

He was married to a black woman, fathered black children and lived with a black woman for a period who many called his ‘other mother’. He had also been around many black people throughout his life, with whom he formed close relationships. 

The tribunal found that the claimant’s beliefs are strong and genuinely held. Furthermore, they had been carefully considered through experience, research and readings and the respondent accepted this. Also, the tribunal found that his beliefs did concern a substantial aspect of human life and were serious. Moreover, since there were no inconsistencies in the claimant’s beliefs when questioned, they were found to be cogent.

Finally, the tribunal considered whether the claimant’s beliefs were ‘worthy of respect in a democratic society, are not incompatible with human dignity and do not conflict with the fundamental rights of others’. In concluding this question, they quoted the Forstarter decision, explaining that only extreme beliefs like Nazism should be excluded. Since the claimant’s beliefs regard eliminating racism in the best way, they satisfy the question put forth by the tribunal. 

How The Tribunal Concluded

As such, it was found that the claimant’s beliefs, which opposed critical race theory, met the Grainger tests and are protected under the EqA 2010. Following this decision, a further hearing will commence in April 2024. This will decide if Mr Corby’s beliefs, which have now been found to be protected under the EqA 2010, were discriminated against.

Contact us today if you have experienced something similar. We can assess the eligibility of your case and advise on how to proceed. With many years of experience, an employment lawyer from Redmans Solicitors is well-equipped to help you.