In September 2020, after 17 years of loyal service, Jeremy Sleath was dismissed from his role as Senior Conductor with West Midland Trains.
His crime? He had celebrated the end of lockdown by posting on his personal Facebook account:
"Thank F*** our pubs open up today. We cannot let our way of life become like some sort of Muslim alcohol-free caliphate just to beat Covid19."
For Jeremy, a regular pub-goer, this was simply an expression of his secular belief. He does not want to live in a Muslim caliphate or any sort of theocracy. He simply wants to be free to go to the pub and socialise.
West Midland Trains, however, found Jeremy’s comments offensive. Or at least, one anonymous fellow employee did. Following a disciplinary procedure which Jeremy believes to have been flawed and unfair, he was summarily dismissed. The effect on him has been immense. Not least of which he is now without income, and relies on modest savings simply to get by but the loss of day-to-day interaction with colleagues has taken an even bigger toll on his mental health.
It would have been easy for him to give up but despite facing difficulties that would defeat many of us, he is fighting back. Without any legal representation or help from his union, he filed a claim in the Employment Tribunal for discrimination on grounds of belief and unfair dismissal.
As reported in the Times and Daily Mail, Jeremy, still without legal assistance, persuaded the employment judge that his Facebook comments were indeed an expression of a belief – secular atheism – protected by the Equality Act 2010.
The judge found Jeremy a compelling witness saying
"I found him to be very open and talkative, polite and serious about his beliefs. I do not find him to be a person who would deliberately seek to upset anyone, but, on the other hand, would not shrink from saying what he thought about anything. He is prepared to be controversial. He is what one may describe as a ‘character’, namely one who is unafraid to express his own individuality.…"
He went on to say: "I find the claimant to have been an entirely open and honest witness and accept his evidence entirely."
Mr Sleath is now attempting to get his job back. But West Midland Trains are still making him sit through an unfair dismissal tribunal, seemingly determined not to admit they got it horribly wrong. On 23 September a full hearing into his unfair dismissal claim will be heard.
Meanwhile the 'anonymous' person who took offence at the facebook post is thought to be a Muslim, still employed by West Midland Trains, and will be 'consulted' on any move to reinstate Jeremy Sleath due to the original 'grievance' being maintained.