A researcher who lost her job at a thinktank after tweeting that transgender women could not change their biological sex has won her claim that she was unfairly discriminated against because of her gender-critical beliefs.
Maya Forstater suffered direct discrimination when the Centre for Global Development (CGD), where she was a visiting fellow, did not renew her contract or fellowship, an employment tribunal found on Wednesday.
The tribunal also ruled that Forstater, the executive director of Sex Matters, suffered victimisation with respect to the removal of her profile from CGD’s website.
Its decision comes after Forstater successfully brought a test case to establish that gender-critical views are a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act. She initially lost that case at an employment tribunal in 2019 but won a landmark decision on appeal last year, with the judge stressing that while gender-critical views might be “profoundly offensive and even distressing to many others … they are beliefs that are and must be tolerated in a pluralist society”.
The case was then sent back to the tribunal to decide whether Forstater’s claim had been proved on the facts. It upheld two complaints of direct discrimination and one of victimisation. Two other complaints of direct discrimination and one of victimisation were unsuccessful.
The judgment stated: “Absent an explanation from the respondents, the facts are such that the tribunal could properly conclude that the tweets were a substantial part of the reason why Ms Forstater was not offered employment; and the respondent’s evidence, far from proving the contrary, supports the finding that they were …
“We reminded ourselves that it would be an error to treat a mere statement of Ms Forstater’s protected belief as inherently unreasonable or inappropriate.”
The tribunal examined a number of tweets by Forstater, including tweets in which she drew an analogy between self-identifying trans women and Rachel Dolezal, a white American woman who misrepresented herself as black, and another in which she said: “A man’s internal feeling that he is a woman has no basis in material reality.” It concluded that the tweets asserted her gender-critical beliefs.
It said the same of one that described self-identification as a woman as “a feeling in their head”, rejecting the suggestion that it equated self-identification with mental illness.
The tribunal also considered tweets in which Forstater said she was surprised people could say they believed that males could be women, and that they are “tying themselves in knots”.
It said they were “fairly mild examples” of mockery, adding: “Mocking or satirising the opposing view is part of the common currency of debate.”
The three-member panel, led by the employment judge Andrew Glennie, said a description of a Credit Suisse executive, Pips Bunce, who identified as a woman for part of the week, as a “part-time cross dresser” could have been put in “more moderate terms”.
But two of the three panel members said it “did not amount to an objectionable or inappropriate manifestation of Ms Forstater’s belief, given the context of a debate on a matter of public interest; the fact that Pips Bunce had put themself forward in public as a person who is gender fluid and who dresses sometimes as a woman and sometimes as a man”.
Responding to the decision, Forstater said: “My case matters for everyone who believes in the importance of truth and free speech. We are all free to believe whatever we wish. What we are not free to do is compel others to believe the same thing, to silence those who disagree with us or to force others to deny reality.”
She also thanked JK Rowling for standing by her. The Harry Potter author tweeted: “Every woman who’s been harassed, silenced, bullied or lost employment because of her gender critical beliefs is freer and safer today, thanks to the warrior that is @MForstater.”
Stonewall, the LGBTQ+ campaign group, said: “Today’s judgment … does not change the reality of trans people’s workplace protection. No one has the right to discriminate against, or harass, trans people simply because they disagree with their existence and participation in society.”
Amanda Glassman, chief executive of CGD, said: “We are reviewing today’s judgment, which found in favour of Ms Forstater on some claims, and dismissed others. CGD’s primary aim has always been to uphold our values and maintain a workplace and an environment that is welcoming, safe, and inclusive to all, including trans people.”
Remedies will be determined at a later date.