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After being dropped by Leicester's Curve Theatre from a stage performance of The Color Purple, actress Seyi Omooba (26), sued both her agents and the theatre for £128,000, claiming discrimination, harassment, and breach of contract.
Ms Omooba, due to play the lead character Celie, who is portrayed as being in a same sex relationship, was dismissed when a Facebook post she wrote in 2014 resurfaced.
Written when Ms Omooba, a Christian, was 20, she stated at the time, 'I do not believe you can be born gay, and I do not believe homosexuality is right, though the law of this land has made it legal doesn't mean its right.' Following Ms Omooba's appointment to the role in March 2019, another actor, not connected to the play, shared the post on social media.
The Central London Employment Tribunal heard that it triggered a huge negative social media response and following discussions with Leicester Theatre Trust Ltd six days later, where Ms Omooba said she stood by her beliefs, she was sacked. In addition, three days after that, her contract with agent Michael Garrett Associates Ltd (Global Artists) was terminated.
The Tribunal rejected Ms Omooba's claims and dismissed her suggestion that her dismissal amounted to discrimination because of her religious beliefs. Ms Omooba claimed she would have refused the role if she had considered it gay, labelling the character's sexuality as 'ambiguous'. But this was rejected by the Tribunal notably because Ms Omooba had previously taken part in a similar production, had received the script, and knew that a 'same-sex relationship was at least one interpretation.' Determining she should have 'considered much earlier whether a red line was to be crossed.'
The Tribunal also rejected her claim for compensation for loss of earnings, future losses, and reputational damage because on Ms Omooba's own admission she would not have played the part because of its gay connotations, and therefore there would have been no financial loss. In any event, the Theatre Trust offered her the full salary for the role 'unconditionally', but she refused to invoice the trust, instead deciding to bring legal action against them. The Tribunal also stated any damage to Ms Omooba's reputation arose not from being dropped from the production but from the backlash of the contents of the post she had written.
Whot do employees need to be aware of?
Employees need to think very carefully about what they post on social media. Also, they need to be aware of how easy it is for repercussions, not only to be immediately problematic but also for them to lie dormant for months or years before resurfacing and causing serious damage – as happened here.
An employee should also be aware of their obligations etc under any social media policies which their employer has. A breach of the policy may result in disciplinary action being taken.
Whilst the Tribunal found that the theatre had not discriminated against Ms Omooba because of her religious beliefs expressed on Facebook, the clear message was that the resurfacing of this post caused irreparable damage to her reputation and career.
This article was written by Alex Pearce, Senior Associate in the Employment Law Team at Pinney Talfourd LLP Solicitors. The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. Specific legal advice should be taken on each individual matter. This article is based on the law as of February 2021.