Curtain falls on Omooba case: Tribunal tosses discrimination claim

Curtain falls on Omooba case: Tribunal tosses discrimination claim February 17, 2021

Image via YouTube/Christian Concern

THE UK’s Christian Legal Centre, notorious for bringing cases without merit on behalf of  ‘persecuted’ Christians, today expressed ‘disappointment’ over the fact that an employment tribunal found that Seyi Omooba, above – the actor who refused to play the lesbian character Celie in a stage version of The Colour Purple – had emphatically not been discriminated against when she was sacked from the role.

The judgement, according to this report, fully vindicates the Curve Theatre, Leicester, and her former management agency Global Artists who dropped her for expressing her Christian-based homophobia on social media. The CLC eagerly jumped on the case, and acting on behalf of Omooba, sued for religious discrimination, harassment and breach of contract. They demanded £71,400 in compensation,

Image via YouTube/Christian Concern

During two days of testimony in a week-long hearing Omooba – daughter of Christian Concern’s Ade Omooba, above – claimed that although she had previously played the role of Nettie (Celie’s sister) in a concert version of the show at Cadogan Hall in 2017, she “missed” the iconic scene where Celie and Shug eventually declare their love for each other and kiss.

She was “off-stage” at that point and therefore didn’t realise that she was expected to play a lesbian. She then went on to admit that she didn’t read the script before auditioning for the show and still hadn’t read it even when offered (and accepted) the part.

Furthermore she went on to say that once it had become apparent during the rehearsal process that she was to play a gay character, she would have withdrawn from the show.

She then claimed that she would have interpreted the character her “own way” before finally admitting that she had a personal “red line” and would not have been able to play a gay woman. Following  “frantic and protracted negotiations” between Curve, Omooba and her management agent Global Artists, it was made clear to her that she had two options: resign or be dismissed. She chose the latter.

The tribunal’s judgment said that:

There is no breach of contract because the claimant was in prior repudiatory breach … the contract was empty because the claimant would not have played the part.

Had she not been dropped when she was, would have wrecked the production.

Today Curve’s CEO Chris Stafford and artistic director, Nikolai Foster said:

We now look forward to drawing a line under this painful chapter and focusing our energies on how we rebuild our theatre after the pandemic. We do not condone any negativity Seyi Omooba has been subjected to and we respectfully ask anyone in support of this ruling to be kind and respectful in acknowledging this victory for Curve and Celie.

The tribunal heard that Omooba wasn’t prepared to retract a homophobic statement after it went viral and Curve’s chief executive, Chris Stafford, told the tribunal that Omooba’s continued involvement in the production would have been a “complete disaster” and would have led to potential boycotts and protests. He went on to say had she pulled out of the production at rehearsal stage it would have had to be axed.

To get to the stage of rehearsals and then for the lead actor to say she wouldn’t play a lesbian, our theatre’s credibility would be shot … we would have had to draw a line under the production and cancel The Color Purple. This was a role that she didn’t want and would have refused to play.

Referring to Theatrical Rights Worldwide, who control the rights to the show, Stafford said in this report:

They could have withdrawn their agreement for Curve to present the show, as losing the lesbian storyline would be in massive contrast to how the authors intended.

He also said the theatre “would surely have had boycotts”, which would have proved a “commercial nightmare”.

Her former agents feared the same thing, with Garrett telling the tribunal that they feared an exodus of other clients:

I was concerned that the enormous offence caused [among] the community would lead to an exit of a number of clients and staff. That would have had a commercial, financial impact on the business.

He also feared that two of his agents would leave, too.

Omooba was initially pursuing £128,000 in compensation from both parties, but revised her financial claim ahead of the final day of the hearing to remedies worth £71,400 to acknowledge the impact that Covid-19 would have had on her potential earning.

She also abandoned a claim for £4,309, the amount of her agreed fee for the musical after the hearing heard that this fee had always been offered to Omooba. Her refusal to invoice for the amount and its subsequent inclusion in her claim was described by Curve’s representative Tom Coghlin QC as:

Misconceived and an abuse of process.

Christopher Milsom QC, representing Global Artists, described Omooba as:

The author of her own misfortune.

In a terse reaction, Christian Concern’s other co-founder Andrea Minichiello Williams, said:

We’re disappointed by the judgement and Seyi is considering her options for appeal.

Curiously, as of tonight, Christian Concern, which has covered every aspect of this case, had not reported on its outcome. Stunned into silence?

Hat tip: BarrieJohn and Stephen Harvie

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