'Landmark victory' | Social worker wins discrimination case over online gender debate

Social worker wins discrimination case over online gender debate

A social worker who faced suspension over her expression of gender critical views on social media has successfully argued her case against her employer, and the profession’s regulatory body, for alleged discrimination.

In a recent tribunal ruling, it was decided that both Westminster City Council and Social Work England had discriminated against Rachel Meade based on her protected beliefs under the Equality Act of 2010.

The tribunal found that in 2020 Meade was given a year-long warning, after a Facebook friend of hers filed a complaint with her regulatory body about online content that Meade had shared or liked, including a petition that aligned with gender critical ideas.

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Social Work England said that Meade had engaged in discriminatory behaviour over a period of time that “could be perceived to be derogatory and potentially discriminatory to members of the transgender community”.

Responding to the allegations of misconduct, Westminster City Council suspended Meade and Social Work England initiated disciplinary measures against her, warning the social worker that she could face dismissal for gross misconduct.

Meade’s lawyers said the social worker had been “bullied into silence” during her year-long suspension period for attempting to “speak up for women’s rights”.

A 'landmark' judgement, legal reps claim

Meade had interacted with over 70 posts on Facebook and X, formerly Twitter, including reposting a tweet about JK Rowling being targeted for who she follows – the author has historically been accused of being transphobic, and posting a link to a petition for female-only changing rooms.

In tribunal judgement documents, it was ruled that Meade’s social media activity were “within her protected rights for freedom of thought and freedom to manifest her beliefs”.

“In particular we do not consider that the respondents struck a fair balance between the claimant’s right to freedom of expression and the interests of those who they perceived may be offended by her Facebook posts.”

The judgement ruled that the disciplinary process experienced by Meade was harassment, and that more should have been done to understand the complexities around the issue and Meade’s actions.

Meade’s representatives described the judgement as a “landmark victory” in the “culture war on gender issues” as the case is the first time both an employer and regulatory body have been guilty of discrimination relating to gender issues.

Responding to the judgement, Meade said it had been a “huge relief to be so completely vindicated”. This ruling makes it clear that I was entitled to contribute to the important public debate on sex and gender” she went on to say.

Westminster City Council released a statement saying that ideas around gender were “fast-evolving” and that the organisation has plans to see what changes are needed to ensure the “best balance” for staff, service users and partners.

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