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Manifesting one’s beliefs vs inappropriately proselytising them – where is the line?

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In Kuteh v. Dartford and Gravesham NHS Trust [2019] EWCA Civ 818 the Court of Appeal was asked to consider whether the dismissal of a Christian nurse for repeatedly failing to follow reasonable management instructions not to initiate inappropriate religious conversations with patients was unfair.

Ms Kuteh was a Christian nurse in charge of assessing patients before surgery. Various patients had complained that Ms Kuteh had started inappropriate religious conversations with them. After clear instructions to stop such conversations, Ms Kuteh had assured management that she would desist. There were, however, further complaints including one incident which was described as “like a Monty Python skit” where Ms Kuteh had apparently gripped a patient’s hand, said a prayer and asked him to sing Psalm 23.  Ms Kuteh was suspended and ultimately dismissed on grounds of gross misconduct.

Ms Kuteh brought an unfair dismissal in the employment tribunal and was unsuccessful. The case went up to the Court of Appeal which dismissed her appeal. Case law had established that there was a distinction between manifesting one’s beliefs and inappropriately proselytising them. It was found that Ms Kuteh had done the latter. There had been a fair reason for dismissal (conduct), a fair dismissal procedure had been followed and dismissal was within the band of reasonable responses. This was especially true in this case because these incidents had occurred only shortly after a reasonable instruction had been given and Ms Kuteh’s assurance that she would not repeat them.  It is noteworthy that no claim of religious discrimination was made in this case.