Gender: Offensive Speech or Freedom of Expression?

Jan 16, 2024

The Employment Tribunal has ruled in favour of social worker Rachel Meade, who faced suspension over her expression of gender critical views on social media.  Westminster City Council and Social Work England have both been found to have discriminated against Ms Meade based on her protected beliefs under the Equality Act of 2010.

In 2020, Rachel Meade received a year-long warning from Social Work England after her Facebook friend had filed a complaint with her regulatory board about her online activities, which included sharing or liking content aligned with gender critical ideas.  Social Work England argued that Meade’s behavior over time could be perceived as discriminatory and derogatory towards members of the transgender community. Subsequently, Westminster City Council suspended Meade, and Social Work England initiated disciplinary measures, warning of potential dismissal for gross misconduct.

This case marks a significant development in the ongoing debate surrounding freedom of expression and the boundaries of protected beliefs in the context of gender issues.

Protected Beliefs and Freedom of Expression

The Tribunal’s judgment highlighted that Meade’s social media activity fell within her protected rights for freedom of thought and the manifestation of her beliefs. The ruling emphasised that the Respondents failed to strike a fair balance between Meade’s right to freedom of expression and the interests of those who might be offended by her posts. The decision underscores the importance of upholding individuals’ rights to express their beliefs, even in the context of controversial and sensitive topics such as gender.

Harassment and Lack of Understanding

The Tribunal concluded that the disciplinary process experienced by Meade amounted to harassment. It noted that there should have been a greater effort to understand the complexities surrounding the issue and Meade’s actions. The ruling signals a call for a more nuanced approach in addressing disputes related to gender issues, urging employers and regulatory bodies to consider the broader context and engage in a meaningful dialogue.

Ms Meade’s legal representatives claimed she had been bullied into silence during her year-long suspension period for attempting to speak up for women’s rights.  This case is the first instance where both an employer and a regulatory body have been found guilty of discrimination concerning gender-related beliefs. The decision highlights the significance of protecting individuals’ rights to engage in public debates on contentious subjects without fear of retribution.

Response and Future Considerations

It was ruled that Ms Meade’s social media activity were “within her protected rights for freedom of thought and freedom to manifest her beliefs”.

In response, Westminster City Council acknowledged the evolving nature of ideas around gender and pledged to assess necessary changes to strike the “best balance” for staff, service users, and partners. This acknowledgment suggests a growing awareness of the need for sensitivity and inclusivity in navigating discussions on gender-related matters within organisations.

Learning Points

The ruling in Rachel Meade’s case sets a precedent for future disputes involving freedom of expression and protected beliefs in the realm of gender issues. It emphasises the importance of striking a fair balance between the rights of individuals to express their views and the responsibility of employers and regulatory bodies to create an inclusive and understanding environment. This ‘landmark’ decision is likely to spark discussions and prompt organisations to re-evaluate their approaches to handling disputes related to gender beliefs in the workplace.

This will leave many employers querying where the line is on freedom of expression and the Tribunal might have taken a tougher approach if such expressions were made in the workplace during worktime; in target of colleagues; or had the effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment in the workplace.

For further information, or to discuss the issues raised within this case, please ​contact us to speak to a member of our Employment Team.

This reflects the law and market position at the date of publication and is written as a general guide. It does not contain definitive legal advice, which should be sought in relation to a specific matter.

Darren Smith

Darren Smith

Partner, Employment Law

Lucinda Cameron

Lucinda Cameron

Trainee Solicitor

Latest News & Insights

All in a Day’s Work: Employment Podcast Series

Our Employment team bring you a monthly podcast covering all aspects of Employment law for businesses and individuals. You can browse our podcasts below…

Top Legal Insights

 

Contract Law

Material Breach of Contract

What is a ‘material’ breach of contract by a party to a commercial contract? This is a critical issue regularly considered by the courts. What constitutes a material breach and what are the remedies?

Property Law

Commercial Lease: The Financial impact on Landlord and Tenant

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the restrictions now in place to control its spread, are having a significant effect on many business sectors.

Divorce and Family Law

Divorce in Lockdown: Can I get some discreet legal advice?

We have spoken to clients who are unfortunately experiencing some family issues, and would like to obtain expert legal advice, yet don’t know how...

Land & Property Dispute

Restrictive Covenants – The Price of Modification

Having identified that your land is burdened by a restrictive covenant and for the purposes of this article the covenant in question will be that only one residential building can be erected on the land. What do you do next?

Wills, Trusts and Probate

Why is having a will so important?

It is entirely up to you if and when you want to create a Will, but it is important to be aware of the consequences of not having a Will.

Award winning legal advice

Herrington Carmichael offers legal advice to UK and International businesses as well as individuals and families. Rated as a ‘Leading Firm 2024’ by the legal directory Legal 500 and listed in The Times ‘Best Law Firms 2023 & 2024’. Herrington Carmichael has offices in London, Farnborough, Reading, and Ascot.

+44 (0)1276 686 222

Email: info@herrington-carmichael.com

Farnborough
Brennan House, Farnborough Aerospace Centre Business Park, Farnborough, GU14 6XR

Reading (Appointment only)
The Abbey, Abbey Gardens, Abbey Street, Reading RG1 3BA

Ascot (Appointment only)
102, Berkshire House, 39-51 High Street, Ascot, Berkshire SL5 7HY

London (Appointment only)
60 St Martins Lane, Covent Garden, London WC2N 4JS

Privacy Policy   |   Legal Notices, T&Cs, Complaints Resolution   |   Cookies  |   Client Feedback   |  Diversity Data

 

 

Our Services

Corporate Lawyers
Commercial Lawyers
Commercial Property Lawyers
Conveyancing Solicitors
Dispute Resolution Lawyers
Divorce & Family Lawyers
Employment Lawyers
Immigration Law Services
Private Wealth & Inheritance Lawyers
Startups & New Business Lawyers

Pay Online >

Please be aware that we have no plans to change our bank details. If you receive any indication that any of our bank details have changed please contact us before sending us any funds. We take no responsibility for monies you transfer into the wrong bank account.

© 2024 Herrington Carmichael LLP. Registered in England and Wales company number OC322293.

Herrington Carmichael LLP is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority with registration number 446245.