Salary cut for Christian who criticised gay marriage on NSA Facebook

Christian’s salary cut because he criticised gay marriage on Facebook: Punishment over ‘homophobic’ comments could cost him £60,000

Adrian Smith, 55, lost his managerial position and had salary cut by 40%
Married father-of-one’s case is being supported by the Christian Institute
Mr Smith, of Tottington, near Bury, attends an evangelical church in Bolton

PUBLISHED: 20:01, 18 October 2012 | UPDATED: 00:44, 19 October 2012

A Christian housing manager had his salary slashed after allegedly being ‘entrapped’ by a lesbian colleague into criticising gay marriage on his private Facebook page, a court heard yesterday.

Adrian Smith, 55, had posted a link to an article about plans for civil partnership ceremonies in churches with his own comment: ‘An equality too far.’

After a lesbian colleague asked if that meant he didn’t approve, he posted that he could not understand ‘why people who have no faith and don’t believe in Christ would want to get hitched in church’.

Another colleague complained that the comment was offensive, despite having not seen the post, and Mr Smith was disciplined and had his post downgraded and his salary cut by £14,000.

Yesterday the married father-of-one launched a court battle to overturn the decision and win back lost earnings. They stand at nearly £4,000 for the past 18 months, according to his legal team.

However, his future lost earnings which he could seek to recoup should he fail to overturn his demotion are likely to be at least £60,000.

It is the latest in a series of claims by Christians that they have been discriminated against for expressing their beliefs at work.

Mr Smith, of Tottington, near Bury, who attends an evangelical church in Bolton and preaches part-time, posted a link on his Facebook page to an article about gay ‘marriage’ on the BBC website in February last year. Under the headline ‘Gay church marriages get go-ahead’, Mr Smith had posted: ‘An equality too far.’

The hearing was told that of Mr Smith’s 200 Facebook friends, more than 40 worked with him at the Trafford Housing Trust. On his profile he gave his occupation as housing manager at the trust, which runs Trafford council’s housing stock. Later that day, a lesbian colleague with whom he was friends on Facebook, Julia Stavordale, 56, responded: ‘Does that mean you don’t approve?’

A day later, Mr Smith responded: ‘No, not really. I don’t understand why people who have no faith and don’t believe in Christ would want to get hitched in church. The Bible is quite specific that marriage is for men and women.

‘If the State wants to offer civil marriages to the same sex then that is up to the State; but the State shouldn’t impose its rules on places of faith and conscience.’

Later that week another colleague, Stephen Lynch, who was not friends with Mr Smith on Facebook, complained about the post, despite not having seen it.

The trust’s ‘equality and diversity lead’, Helen Malone, referred it to ‘service leads, neighbourhoods’ Debbie Gorman. Mr Smith was suspended on full pay from his £35,000-a-year post while an investigation began. Miss Stavordale backed the complaint, saying the trust should ‘throw the book at him’ and he was ‘blatantly homophobic’.

The following month, Mr Smith was found guilty of gross misconduct by ‘assistant director, customers’ Mike Corfield for a breach of trust disciplinary policies. Because he gave his job as a housing manager on his Facebook profile, his comments could be construed as representing trust policy.

He was told he faced dismissal, but because of his eight years’ ‘loyal service’ he was instead demoted to money support adviser on just £21,396-a-year.

That reduction was to be phased in over 12 months but, although Mr Smith’s appeal was rejected, that period was doubled to 24 months.

Yesterday Mr Smith came to court with his claim for breach of contract and loss of earnings up to his planned retirement date of 2017 – likely to be as much as £60,000.

Mrs Gorman, Mr Corfield and Mr Barrow – each of whom swore oaths on the Bible – all stood by the decision to demote him at the hearing before the High Court sitting at Manchester Civil Justice Centre.

Hugh Tomlinson, QC, representing Mr Smith, said that in response to his ‘uncontroversial comment’ Mrs Gorman launched a ‘Leveson-style inquiry’.

He suggested Miss Stavordale’s questioning of Mr Smith’s views on Facebook were an attempt to ‘entrap’ him’. He argued that Mr Smith’s comments were clearly his personal views and he told Mrs Gorman: ‘The whole thing is a huge and extraordinary over-reaction.’

Last night Miss Stavordale, 56, who no longer works for the trust and was not called to give evidence, told the Daily Mail that she had not tried to entrap Mrs Smith.

Mr Lynch, who is understood to live with a male partner, was not at home. Mr Smith is being supported by the Christian Institute. The case is due to finish today.

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