A Christian care worker was forced from her job for refusing to work on Sundays even though a Muslim colleague had time off on Fridays to visit the mosque, a tribunal heard yesterday.
Celestina Mba, 57, claims she was threatened with disciplinary action after telling her employer her church duties came first.
In her evidence, she said she felt so intimidated by bosses at Brightwell children’s home in Morden, South London, that she had to resign.
‘I was willing to work at any unsocial time of shift in order to preserve my Sundays, I was prepared to work nights, or Saturdays,’ she said.
‘I would have been willing to consider any hours of work, or even a reduction in pay. I believe that my employer did not want to compromise and saw the issue as a question of management power with disrespect to the Christian faith. I have been treated very badly.’
Miss Mba, who has three grown-up children, is suing Merton council for constructive dismissal on the grounds of religious discrimination.
London South Employment Tribunal heard Miss Mba worships every Sunday at her Baptist church and is part of the ministry team visiting hospitals and providing pastoral care for young women.
She said that at her job interview in May 2007 she told her manager John Deegan she was unable to work Sundays, a request he said he could ‘work around’.
But seven months into the job she was told she had to cover Sundays.
Miss Mba said she launched an official complaint and tried to come up with solutions to the problem but felt her bosses were being obstructive.
The tribunal heard she arranged shift swaps with colleagues, only for this to be blocked by management.
She claims that despite stopping her going to church, the same managers were happy to allow a Muslim member of staff to attend mosque every Friday.
In January 2010, Miss Mba was called to a disciplinary hearing after refusing to work a Sunday shift she had not obtained cover for. She resigned four months later and has not been able to find work since.
Mr Deegan, who also gave evidence, told the tribunal he did not believe Miss Mba had specified she could not work Sundays and said he did not know of any Muslim employee being given special treatment. The hearing continues.
Last week, Baroness Warsi, Tory Party chairman, said a ‘liberal elite’ was attempting to downgrade the importance of religion in public life.
Andrea Williams, of the Christian Legal Centre, which is fighting Miss Mba’s claim, said: ‘This is another example of Christianity being marginalised in public life.
The issue could have been easy to resolve by way of a common sense approach.
‘Increasingly, we see a readiness among employers to accommodate other religions but Christianity seems to be fair game.’
Employment laws do not give Christians the right to Sunday off but bosses must justify Sunday working as a ‘legitimate business need’