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Social Worker, Suspended by Employer Over Gender Critical Belief, was Subjected to Harassment.

Tribunal Recommends Council Trains all Managers and HR Staff.

Andrew Collier
Andrew Collier HR Adviser
An employment tribunal has awarded almost £58,000 in damages, after a social worker won a landmark harassment claim against her employer and a professional regulator due to her belief that a person “cannot change their sex.”
Rachel Meade, a social worker of 20 years, was awarded the compensation – which included £5000 for exemplary damages against regulator Social Work England, described by lawyers as an “unprecedented” move.
Exemplary damages are rarely awarded and made to punish conduct that is “oppressive, arbitrary or unconstitutional.”
Suspended After Sharing Facebook Posts
Ms Meade sued employer Westminster City Council and Social Work England in 2022 for harassment and sex discrimination, after she was suspended over her belief in the reality of biological sex and sex-based protections as set out in the Equality Act
A member of the public had complained in 2020 after Ms Meade had shared and liked some ‘gender critical’ posts on Facebook. She was then suspended by the council on charges of gross misconduct and subjected to a prolonged disciplinary process. Social Work England placed her under a ‘fitness to practice’ investigation. 
Serious Abuse of Power
At the start of this year a judge ruled that the regulator and council had subjected Ms Meade to harassment over her belief. Tribunal judge, Richard Nicolle, said that Social Work England’s actions amounted to “a serious abuse of its power as a regulatory body.” 
The Employment Tribunal called for the council to ensure all its managers and human resources staff receive training on freedom of expression and protected belief. Social Work England was also given a similar recommendation.
Takeaway for Employers
As more gender critical cases are being taken to tribunal with successful claims against employers, what should organisations be aware of?
A recent number of decisions in gender-critical cases demonstrate that this is a philosophical belief, protected in law under the Equality Act 2010.
Freedom of expression and the legal right to express protected beliefs is a rapidly evolving area of employment law so it’s important to be clear on the laws which protect everyone from unfair treatment. 
One of the most noteworthy cases to date has been the judgment in the case of Maya Forstater, which established that ordinary beliefs about the two sexes are covered by the protected characteristic of belief in the Equality Act 2010. You can read more about what the Forstater judgment means for employers here
In response to the Rachel Meade case, WorkSmarter CEO Luke Burton said that an organisation’s internal policies might not necessarily be aligned to decisions made by the Tribunal. 
 “This Tribunal outcome provides another warning to employers of the risk of making assumptions about what amounts to gross misconduct, and that what might appear to be a breach of an employer’s own policies or rules does not necessarily equate to wrongdoing in the more objective eyes of the Tribunal. 
“Not only did this employer lose the case, but the Tribunal saw fit to impose an award of exemplary damages which is extremely rare.”
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Photo by Tim Gouw via Unsplash

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