A Christian who was demoted for posting his opposition to gay marriage on Facebook will receive less than £100 compensation after winning his legal action for breach of contract.
Adrian Smith, 55, lost his managerial position, had his salary cut by 40% and was given a final written warning by Trafford Housing Trust (THT) after posting that gay weddings in churches were "an equality too far".
The comments were not visible to the general public, and were posted outside work time, but the trust said he broke its code of conduct by expressing religious or political views which might upset co-workers.
Mr Justice Briggs, in London's High Court, said the trust did not have a right to demote Mr Smith as his Facebook postings did not amount to misconduct. He added that the postings were not - viewed objectively - judgmental, disrespectful or liable to cause upset or offence, and were expressed in moderate language.
As for their content, they were widely held views frequently to be heard on radio and television, or read in the newspapers. He said he had "real disquiet" about the financial outcome for Mr Smith, whose compensation was limited to the small difference between his contractual salary and the amount actually paid to him during the 12 weeks following his assumption of his new, but reduced, role.
If Mr Smith had begun proceedings for unfair dismissal in the Employment Tribunal, rather than for breach of contract in the county court, there was every reason to suppose he would have been awarded a substantial sum - but Mr Smith had said that by the time he had raised the necessary funds, the time limit for such proceedings had expired.
The judge said: "Mr Smith was taken to task for doing nothing wrong, suspended and subjected to a disciplinary procedure which wrongly found him guilty of gross misconduct, and then demoted to a non-managerial post with an eventual 40% reduction in salary. The breach of contract which the trust thereby committed was serious and repudiatory. A conclusion that his damages are limited to less than £100 leaves the uncomfortable feeling that justice has not been done to him in the circumstances."
Later, Mr Smith said: "I'm pleased to have won my case for breach of contract today. The judge exonerated me and made clear that my comments about marriage were in no way 'misconduct'. My award of damages has been limited to less than £100. But I didn't do this for the money - I did this because there is an important principle at stake."
Matthew Gardiner, chief executive at Trafford Housing Trust said: "We fully accept the court's decision and I have made a full and sincere apology to Adrian. At the time we believed we were taking the appropriate action following discussions with our employment solicitors and taking into account his previous disciplinary record.
"We have always vigorously denied allegations that the trust had breached an employee's rights to freedom of religious expression under human rights and equalities legislation and, in a written judgment handed down on 21st March 2012, a district judge agreed that these matters should be struck out. This case has highlighted the challenges that businesses face with the increased use of social media and we have reviewed our documentation and procedures to avoid a similar situation arising in the future. Adrian remains employed by the trust and I am pleased this matter has now concluded."