Family & Education

Orthodox nursery that sacked teacher for living with her boyfriend wins appeal against religious discrimination

But employment appeal tribunal says teacher was victim of sex discrimination


A strictly Orthodox  kindergarten in London that sacked a Jewish teacher who revealed she lived with her boyfriend has won its appeal against religious discrimination.

But the Employment Appeal Tribunal upheld the previous tribunal decision that Zelda De Groen had been the victim of discrimination and harassment by the kindergarten because she was a woman.

Ms De Groen, who grew up in a strictly Orthodox family but became less religious, began working for the Gan Menachem kindergarten in Hendon in 2012.

In May 2016, she attended a Lag Ba’Omer barbecue with her Jewish partner - whom she has since married -  where some Gan Menachem parents were present. During the event, her boyfriend mentioned to one of the kindergarten’s directors, Mendy Freundlich, that he was living with her.

The following month she was called to a meeting with the kindergarten’s headteacher, Miriam Lieberman, and managing director, Dina Toron.

“Both expressed the view that co-habitation outside marriage was wrong, that having children outside marriage was wrong, that at age 23, time was passing for Ms De Groen to have children, and that if Ms De Groen had problems with the idea of marriage she should seek counselling,” said Mr Justice Swift in his EAT decision on Tuesday.

Summarising the conclusions of the employment tribunal in Watford from 2017, Mr Justice Swift said it had accepted that Mrs Lieberman and Mrs Toron “spoke sincerely and on the basis of their own beliefs; however, the tribunal accepted Ms De Groen’s evidence that she became very upset, tearful and distressed”.

Mrs Lieberman and Mrs Toron, the Watford tribunal found, “wanted Ms De Groen to lie to them and tell them that she did not live with her boyfriend”.

It said she was dismissed “because she had cohabited… and because she would not (untruthfully) say she was no longer cohabiting”.

But Mr Justice Swift said the tribunal’s findings of direct and indirect religious discrimination had been wrong. He cited a recent Supreme Court ruling that upheld the right of a Northern Ireland bakery to refuse to make a cake iced with the message “support gay marriage”.

He also rejected the original tribunal’s reasoning that Ms De Groen had been religiously discriminated against because she did not accept it was wrong for Jews to cohabit.

But he dismissed the appeal against findings of discrimination and harassment on the grounds of her sex.

The tribunal found that Mrs Toron and Mrs Lieberman had intended to discuss “possible marriage and possible pregnancy” when they met Ms De Groen and this was “sufficient to support the conclusion that the decision to call the meeting was because of her sex”, Mr Justice Swift ruled.

Gan Menachem was represented at the appeal by barristers John Bowers QC and Ashley Serr.

A spokesman for the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which supported Ms De Groen, said, “Everyone has the right to a working environment that allows them to achieve their full potential. Ms de Groen’s living arrangements have no bearing on her ability to be a teacher. We are pleased to have supported Ms de Groen in her case and welcome that the Employment Appeal Tribunal has today upheld the finding that she was discriminated against by her employer because of her sex.”

Watford Employment Tribunal must now decide what level of compensation to award her.


Share via

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive