refusal of a bakery to produce a cake amounts to direct discrimination?
an employment case, the commentary which made the news yesterday regarding the
‘gay cake’ provides an interesting example of what constitutes direct
background of Lee –v- Ashers Baking Co Ltd & others involves the
Ashers Bakery (“Ashers”) in County Antrim which produces cakes to order for
customers. Mr Gareth Lee ordered a cake from Ashers to commemorate the end of
Northern-Ireland’s anti-homophobia week to take to a private event he was
attending. Mr Lee asked that the cake have graphics printed on the top with his
required design which included a pro-gay marriage slogan and is reported to
have included pictures of Bert and Ernie. Ashers accepted Mr Lee’s order for
the cake which he paid for and was provided with a receipt.
A few days
later, Mr Lee received a call from Ashers who explained that they were not able
to fulfil his order as Ashers was a Christian business and in hindsight should
not have taken the order, a refund was then arranged. Mr Lee, with the support
of the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, lodged a claim at the County
Court on the grounds that Ashers should not be permitted to refuse service on
the grounds of sexual orientation. Ashers defended the claim on the basis that
the issue was with the cake, not the person who ordered it.
judgment which was handed down yesterday, Judge Brownlie found that as a
business, Ashers was not exempt from discrimination law on the basis that it
was conducting a business for profit and was not a religious group. Ashers
therefore directly discriminated against Mr Lee on the grounds of his sexual
orientation as well as his political beliefs. The parties agreed damages of
£500 in advance which Mr Lee’s lawyer has confirmed will be donated to charity.
highlights the importance for businesses to provide regular training on equal
opportunities to their staff members to ensure, as far as possible, that they
do not discriminate against their customers.