Christian Actor’s Loses Appeal as Dismissal Following Anti-Gay Facebook Post was Fair

A Christian actor lost her religious discrimination appeal in Seyi Omooba v Michael Garret Associates Ltd (t/a Global Artists) and Leicester Theatre Trust Ltd. We explore what happened, the original tribunal’s judgment and why that decision was upheld.

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The Facts in Seyi Omooba v Michael Garret Associates Ltd (t/a Global Artists) and Leicester Theatre Trust Ltd

Background of the Christian Actor

Seyi Omooba (“The Claimant”) signed with her agents, Global Artists (“The First Respondent”), on 18 August 2016. She was a Christian actor, which influenced many of her career decisions. 

For example, she once turned down a role due to its satirical representation of Christianity. Separately, when part of the Little Shop of Horrors cast, she didn’t take part in a video for gay pride. This was because she didn’t want to participate in content that celebrated homosexuality.

The Claimant Lands Lead Role in “The Colour Purple”

In November 2018, she received an invitation from Leicester Theatre (“The Second Respondent”) to audition for a role in the musical production of The Color Purple. This was a globally renowned 1983 novel with a Steven Spielberg film adaption in 1985, eventually becoming a musical. The novel’s main character is Celie, who suffered an abusive upbringing before forming an attachment with a woman called Shug, with whom she had a physical relationship.

The Christian actor didn’t believe Celie was lesbian, though, explaining, “You can see a woman’s worth and beauty without being a lesbian”. She discussed the main character’s struggles and explained how a woman “showed her she was beautiful”. Furthermore, she felt that although “Celie fell in love with Shug”, this was not on a romantic or sexual level.

As such, the claimant had previously performed the role of Celie’s sister, Nettie, in a different adaptation in 2017. When attending the 2018 audition, she again went for the role of Nettie but was also considered for other roles. During auditions, the claimant impressed but was offered the role of Celie on 3 December.

Without reading the script, she accepted the role on 10 January 2019. She believed the relationship between Celie and Shug had seen several interpretations and allowed for her own. What she didn’t realise was that this production focused on the lesbian relationship, making it an unsuitable role for her.

Christian Actor Faces Social Media Storm

On 14 March 2019, the cast for the production was announced. The following day, an actor without affiliation to either respondent tweeted one of the claimant’s Facebook posts from 2014. He added, “…Do you still stand by this post? Or are you happy to remain a hypocrite?”.

This was because, in 2014, the Christian actor discussed her faith and homosexuality. She said, “…I do not believe you can be born gay, and I do not believe homosexuality is right…”. As a result, the tweet questioned why the claimant would accept an LGBTQ role.

Subsequently, the tweet gained mass public criticism, eventually reaching the theatre’s CEO, Chris Stafford. The CEO was concerned that the substantial negative attention would damage the theatre’s reputation and the production’s success. He also feared boycotts, hostile audiences, and refund demands. However, he was aware of the historical nature of the tweet and understood that her views may have changed.

Attempting to avoid discrimination, Chris Stafford undertook extensive consultation with the production’s rights holder and various other parties. He learned that the claimant’s view hadn’t changed and that several colleagues didn’t feel comfortable working with her. A common theme was that the theatre was supposed to be a ‘safe space’ and exploring gender and sexuality would be impossible in light of her views.

The Claimant is Dropped by the Theatre and her Agent

As such, on 21 March, the claimant received a letter terminating her employment with immediate effect. It explained her continued employment was simply untenable due to her view’s impact on the cast, the audience’s reception, the theatre’s reputation and the production’s commercial success. Attached with it was a copy of the public statement yet to be released.

Three days later, the Christian actor was dropped by the first respondent. The agency was concerned that the claimant’s bad publicity could damage it. They had several gay employees and knew of another agency that had collapsed following a ‘social media storm’. Furthermore, they believed their continued relationship with her was “uncommercial” as they’d struggle to find her new roles.

Christian Actor Claims Religious Discrimination

Following this, she brought claims of discrimination and harassment related to her religious beliefs against both respondents. She also claimed a breach of contract against the second respondent. The employment tribunal hearing occurred in early February 2021 and their judgment was sent to both parties on 16 February.

The Employment Tribunal’s Judgment

First, the tribunal determined that, although understandably offensive, the claimant’s belief satisfied the Grainger test and fell under the protected characteristics in the Equality Act 2010. However, they ruled she hadn’t faced religious discrimination from either respondent.

The theatre’s decision was based on the growing public criticism and the claimant’s decision not to retract her views. Rather than being influenced by her statement, they made a commercial decision after considering potential boycotts, refunds and poor sales.

Similarly, the agency’s decision came as a result of the commercial risk to their business rather than the claimant’s faith. They felt the imminent publicity storm threatened their survival and caused them to make a swift decision.

Moving on, the tribunal addressed the Christian actor’s harassment claims. Here, the tribunal explained that neither respondent intended to violate the claimant’s dignity nor create a hostile environment. The theatre simply wanted to save the production and the agency their reputation. Hostility only came from the social media storm, meaning the harassment claims were also dismissed.

Finally, the tribunal ruled on the breach of contract claim. They held that since the claimant wouldn’t have played the lesbian role, she was, in fact, the one in breach of contract. As such, they dismissed this claim too.

Subsequently, the employment tribunal made a costs award in favour of the respondent. They reasoned the claims of the Christian actor had no reasonable prospect of success. Moreover, they understood that Christian Concern Limited (CCL) and Christian Legal Centre (CLC), who’d heavily supported her claims, were well-resourced and could fund her. As such, they ordered her to ‘bear the whole cost of the respondent’s’, which was well over £300,000.

An Appeal is Made

Since none of her claims were successful, the claimant decided to appeal the decision. However, an Appeals Judgment dated 6 March 2024 upheld the decision of the original employment tribunal. This was because the appeals tribunal believed the original conclusions drawn were permissible.

If you have faced religious discrimination and want to learn more, read our practical guide. If you have any questions or wish to claim compensation, contact Redmans Solicitors today. We are employment law specialists and could uncover your eligibility to claim compensation.

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