In the case of Phoenix v The Open University, the claimant was a university professor. She holds gender critical beliefs including a belief in the immutability and importance of biological sex. She believes biological sex is real, cannot be changed, and is not to be conflated with gender identity.
In October 2018, the claimant, along with 53 other academics, co-signed a letter published in the Guardian newspaper. The letter came in response to the government consultation on the reform of the Gender Recognition Act 2004 and took particular issue with the introduction of self-identification for gender reassignment. Following the letter she was harassed and directly discriminated against by colleagues, at one point being compared to a 'racist uncle' by a manager.
In 2021, the claimant and others established the Gender Critical Research Network (GCRN). The GCRN was intended to be an academic research group promoting research into sex, gender and sexualities from a gender critical perspective. Following its launch, 368 of the claimant's colleagues signed an open letter which labelled the GCRN transphobic and called for it to be disaffiliated from the University. The claimant raised a grievance complaining of bullying and harassment. She cited the false allegations that she was hostile to trans rights and referred to the damage caused to her professional reputation and mental health. She had also received death threats and began to suffer symptoms of PTSD and stress. The Vice Chancellor failed to condemn the campaign against her and as a result, the claimant resigned from her position.
The Tribunal found that the claimant's gender critical views satisfied the Grainger criteria and were protected under the Equality Act 2010. She was entitled to manifest her beliefs by setting up the GCRN. The open letter from her colleagues and the subsequent campaign against the claimant constituted harassment on the grounds of those beliefs. The University did not do enough to protect the claimant from harm, in particular by failing to resolve her grievance and refusing to remove certain online statements. The University's failure to act constituted harassment and by terminating the grievance process following the claimant's resignation, it had committed post-employment victimisation. In addition, the Tribunal found that the claimant was constructively dismissed.
This is a first instance decision so it is not binding on other Tribunals. It nevertheless provides a useful example of how Tribunals will approach the issue of the manifestation of gender critical beliefs, and action taken in response. The University has indicated it will consider whether to appeal the Tribunal's decision. We will continue to report on developments.