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The case of Meade v Westminster City Council & Social Work England is the latest in a string of high-profile discrimination and harassment claims brought by individuals holding gender-critical beliefs.

Rachel Meade, a social worker who worked for Westminster City Council, was suspended and subjected to a disciplinary process after posts she had shared on her Facebook page were sent to the regulator Social Work England by a colleague. Ms Meade had a private Facebook page with approximately 40 friends, including a small number of colleagues at the Council. Ms Meade made a number of posts on her Facebook page that expressed her gender-critical beliefs. One of Ms Meade’s colleagues found Ms Meade’s posts to be transphobic and considered that she had deliberately posted misinformation about the trans community. The colleague sent the posts to Social Work England, which placed her under a fitness-to-practise investigation.

The Facebook posts included a link to a petition stipulating that women should have the right to maintain sex-based protections as set out in the Equality Act, including female-only spaces such as changing rooms and hospital wards. Ms Meade had also posted from a sex-based rights campaign group and a petition said that male athletes should not compete in female sports.

Social Work England’s Fitness to Practise Rules prohibit social workers from discriminating against any person and from using social media unlawfully, unethically or in a way that brings the profession into disrepute. Initially, the regulator considered that Ms Meade’s Facebook activity was discriminatory.

Following a lengthy disciplinary process, during which time Ms Meade was suspended from work for 12 months, Westminster Council issued Ms Meade with a final written warning in July 2022.

Social Work England later determined that the social media posts were not offensive and that proceedings regarding her Fitness to Practice should be discontinued.  Shortly thereafter Westminster Council granted Ms Meade’s appeal against the final written warning.

Ms Meade subsequently brought discrimination and harassment claims to the Tribunal against the Council and Social Work England. In line with related cases concerning gender-critical beliefs, the Employment Tribunal concluded that Ms Meade’s beliefs were ‘protected beliefs’ in accordance with the Equality Act.

The Tribunal found that Ms Meade had been discriminated against because of her protected beliefs. The Respondents had concluded that Ms Meade’s beliefs were inherently discriminatory and transphobic and therefore unacceptable. The Tribunal considered that Ms Meade’s suspension for over a year and a number of other detriments she was subjected to were discriminatory. The Tribunal also found that the Respondents hadn’t given due weight to the fact that there was a very limited audience for Ms Meade’s Facebook activity and the fact that the views were expressed personally and not on behalf of her employer (or in the workplace).

Following a remedy hearing in February 2024, the tribunal has now ordered Westminster City Council and Social Work England to pay Ms Meade a total of £58,344.11 in compensation for injury to feelings and aggravated damages.

The judgement serves as a reminder to employers to manage cases concerning religion and belief very carefully and to take a proportionate response to concerns raised. It also serves as a reminder that employers need to be mindful that inclusivity and diversity include the inclusivity of beliefs which some may find offensive or provocative, but are nevertheless protected by the Equality Act.

Please note that this information is for general guidance only and should not substitute professional legal advice. If you have specific concerns, we recommend consulting one of our legal experts.


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