The outcome (so far) of Seyi Omooba’s Tribunal case against Curve and her former agents

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I’ve already previously written here at length about the background to the employment tribunal case Seyi Omooba brought against Leicester’s Curve Theatre and her former agents Global Artists after respectively dismissing her from starring in a 2019 production of The Color Purple and from their books.

The tribunal’s judgement was published on Wednesday (February 17), in which it stated: “It is very sad that the claimant’s promising career has been brought to an end. But for the reasons set out we do not find that she was discriminated or harassed because of or related to her religious belief.”

That is, indeed, the nub of it: a good decision by the tribunal, certainly, though it is also an undoubted sadness that a performer of unquestionable talent has brought her own career to an apparent dead-end (from which it is hard to now see her ever recovering) with a case that was not only exposed as legally flawed, but — in a very unchristian-like set of values — was also full of apparent dishonesty, too.

She at first insisted that although she had been in a previous concert production of the show — presented by the British Theatre Academy at Cadogan Hall in 2017, in which she played Celie’s sister Nettie — she wasn’t onstage during a sequence that included a lesbian kiss; but then, confronted with evidence that she was in fact there, she changed her testimony to say she’d not been looking at the time it happened.

It also turned out that she’d been offered her fee, in full, by the theatre for her contract when they dismissed her — but she had never invoiced them for it. So she also subsequently withdrew the part of her claim for lost earnings: another embarrassing back-pedal on her part.

Nevertheless, the tribunal also suggested that it was a close-run decision — they declared that after “anxious and careful consideration” it felt that the beliefs expressed in her historic Facebook posting whose exposure led to her dismissal “did scrape over the threshold for protection”, but that at the same time they concluded that she was not discriminated against her because of that belief by either the theatre or her agent, but that she was dismissed for other legitimate reasons..

In the words of the judgement (which can be read in full here), “We concluded that while the situation would not have arisen but for the expression of her belief, it was the effect of the adverse publicity from its retweet, without modification or explanation, on the cohesion of the cast, the audience’s reception, the reputation of the producers and ’the good standing and commercial success’ of the production that were the reasons why she was dismissed.”

There are many lessons to be learnt from this unhappy case, not least the dangers of historic social media postings coming to light from which the case began, when original Hamilton cast member Aaron Lee Lambert found a Facebook posting she’d written in 2014, when she was twenty years old, in which she said:

Some Christians have completely misconceived the issue of Homosexuality, they have begun to twist the word of God. it is clearly evident in 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 what the bible says on this matter. 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. I do believe that everyone sins and falls into temptation but its by the asking of forgiveness, repentance and the grace of God that we overcome and live how God ordained us too, which is that a man should leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. Genesis 2:24.

The problem, however, wasn’t so much that she’d expressed those feelings then, but that she insisted on still standing by them now, five years later — despite being offered the opportunity to reject them, as she’d just accepted the role of a character, part of whose journey is discovering same-sex attraction.

As Brenda Russell — the singer-songwriter who was part of the composing team behind the musical — put it on Twitter,

But the obvious hypocrisy of expressing these views and still taking on a role that featured a physical expression of a same-sex relationship that she finds personally so abhorrent wasn’t ultimately the deal-breaker: that was her insistence that she would refuse to play the role as actually written.

Her lawyer tried to argue that the best-known representation of the story, outside of the Alice Walker’s novel itself, was a Steven Spielberg film version, and that she was imagining that this was the role she would be playing; but in fact she’d been supplied with the script for this production and had previously even been in another production, but neither read that script (nor watched the production she’d been in closely enough) to ascertain that her own red-lines would be crossed in the show that she’d previously told her agent she would refuse to play if asked.

So it was her own failure of research and due diligence that was at fault, not that of the theatre or its production team, who engaged her in good faith that she would play the part as written, without making demands of her own on the production management. As Curve’s barrister Tom Coghlin put it, “The role that she complains about being dismissed from is one that she would have refused to play in any event. Her choice was to resign or be dismissed and she chose to be dismissed.”

And as Christopher Milsom, barrister for Global Artists, put it, she was “the author of her own misfortune.” and the impact of her comments on her employability made her contract with the agency “an empty vessel”. As The Stage reported, the company had to take into account the likelihood of Omooba finding further work, and Michael Garrett — owner of Global Artists — told the tribunal, “My decision was that it was extremely unlikely.”

But there’s also another, even more disturbing part of the case and why it was brought at all. This wasn’t, after all, a David and Goliath tale of a highly principled young performer (even if her principles weren’t those that other actors shared) standing up against a powerful regional theatre and a leading theatrical agency; but a case being actively promoted and encouraged by a religious pressure group, Christian Concern.

As Curve’s chief executive Chris Stafford and artistic director Nikolai Foster said in a joint statement after the release of the judgement,

“Unfortunately, we consider that Curve has been subject to a carefully orchestrated campaign from Seyi Omooba and Christian Concern, who have used the tribunal process – and our theatre – as an opportunity to further their case.”

But that’s not all: Christian Concern was in fact founded by her father, Pastor Ade Omooba, with the charity declaring in a statement on its website, “The casting was announced the same day (March 14, 2019) that Seyi went with her father, Pastor Ade Omooba, an eminent international Christian campaigner and Christian Concern’s co-founder, to Buckingham Palace to receive his MBE.”

The same release also says:

“Seyi, who visibly prays before each show and wears a ‘Not Ashamed’ of the Gospel wrist band, had accepted the lead role over Celie after originally auditioning for the character of Nettie, and disagrees with the interpretation that Celie is a lesbian character.”

With respect, that is not her choice; she’s an actor, and its her job to play the role as written, not as she wishes it to be.

And ultimately, too, it must surely be concerning — and not just because the charity is called Christian Concern — that a charity which relies upon donations for ‘charitable purposes’ funded a court case in which the founder of the charity was the father of the claimant.

As actor Irvine Iqbal tweeted,

Perhaps the charity’s regulators could investigate. Amongst key items that it campaigns for on its website is this declaration on sexuality:

“Sexuality is a good gift of God, created and designed to be enjoyed within one man, one woman marriage. Within that context, sex expresses the one flesh union between a couple and can bring new life into the world…. Problems with sexuality reflect both inner problems in people’s hearts as well as outer problems in society and culture. Such problems can and do great damage to marriage and relationships. Pornography of all kinds, inappropriate school curricula and homosexual campaigning in media and institutions all play a part – as do Christians when they succumb to temptations. Christian Concern advocates for policies which reflect God’s good design for sexuality, and support those who provide pastoral help for all who want a way out of the chaos.”

All of which is a polite way of saying that they support gay conversion therapies. In another feature on their website, they argue against efforts in the Scottish Parliament to ban these, stating that “an amendment by the Green Party to the Scottish Hate Crime Bill which would remove the freedom to criticise homosexual behaviour or to ask someone to refrain from or modify homosexual behaviour. This would have a profound and widespread impact on churches, counsellors, parents, teachers and others across Scotland…. In reality, we shall see how LGBT activists are stretching the definition of hate crime to include all criticism of homosexual behaviour.”

So, beyond spending the charity’s money for its own founder’s daughter to hold onto an acting career in which she refuses to perform roles as written, it is also a charity that is actively seeking its own version of continuing to hate those with whose lives it disagrees.

And it seems that they are still not done: according to a story in The Stage published on Friday, Christian Concern’s chief executive Andrea Williams has said that Seyi Omooba is “considering her options around an appeal.” She added that the judgement “appears to endorse viewpoint discrimination” against Christians, and disagreed with the tribunal’s finding that Omooba was not dismissed because of her religious beliefs.

So they are now looking at spending yet more charity money on a case in support of their founder’s daughter; it is starting to look like harassment.

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