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Social worker wins harassment claim against council and professional regulatory body Social Work England

A social worker has won a claim against her employer, Westminster City Council, and the professional regulatory body Social Work England in an employment tribunal for discrimination relating to her “gender critical beliefs”.

In the case of Ms R M v Westminster City Council and Social Work England.

Ms RM said that she is a feminist and holds gender critical views. “She has spoken out about, and campaigned over many years for women’s rights”, said Employment Judge Nicolle.

Ms RM shared gender critical posts on social media. Social Work England (SWE) received a complaint about her posts upon which she was subjected to a Fitness to Practise (“FtP”) investigation.

The FtP process concluded with a formal sanction, later withdrawn. When the council learned of the sanction, Ms RM was suspended on charges of gross misconduct.

Employment Judge Nicolle said: “The claimant has said that she was naively unaware that any posts she had shared or liked, any petitions she had signed, or any organisations to whom she had donated, were discriminatory or offensive. She said that she had not fully read or analysed the content of some of the articles or links before posting.

“She acknowledged showing a lack of judgement in her use of social media.”

Outlining the claimant’s position, the judge noted that Ms Meade described feeling “bullied” by the process. He added: “the claimant did not consider that articles that she had forwarded from newspapers or other media publications/organisations could be discriminatory.”

Following a year’s suspension, a final written warning and an appeal, the council reversed the finding of gross misconduct and withdrew the sanction.

The judge found that both SWE and Westminster City Council had subjected Ms Meade to harassment related to her gender-critical belief when SWE threatened her with fitness to practise proceedings and sanctioned her for misconduct, and then the council suspended her on charges of gross misconduct before issuing a final written warning.

The panel held that the claimant’s Facebook posts and other communications “fell within her protected rights for freedom of thought and freedom to manifest her beliefs as protected under Articles 9 and 10.”

The tribunal concluded: “We consider it wholly inappropriate that an individual such as the claimant espousing one side of the debate should be labelled discriminatory, transphobic and to pose a potential risk to vulnerable service users.

“That in effect equates her views as being equivalent to an employee/social worker espousing racially discriminatory or homophobic views. The opinions expressed by the claimant could not sensibly be viewed as being transphobic when properly considered in their full context from an objective perspective, but rather her expressing an opinion contrary to the interpretation of legislation”.

A Westminster City Council spokesperson said: “We apologise to Rachel Meade for the way she has been treated and the upset that has been caused. We acknowledge and accept the findings of the tribunal.

Colum Conway, Chief Executive of Social Work England, said: “We acknowledge the Judgment of the London Central Employment Tribunal in the case of Ms Rachel Meade against Westminster City Council and Social Work England.

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