Christian doctor in transgender pronoun row loses at employment tribunal

christian doctor transgender pronoun employment tribunal
Image: Matthew Cooper/PA Wire/PA Images

The Christian doctor who refused to refer to transgender benefits claimants by their relevant pronouns has lost his claim for religious discrimination and harassment.

Dr David Mackereth claimed he was dismissed from his role as a health and disabilities assessor at the Department for Work and Pensions after he said using transgender individuals’ preferred pronouns and titles would be at odds with his Christian faith and he would not be able to do so in good conscience.

However, an employment tribunal in Birmingham found that his objection to transgenderism was “incompatible with human dignity” and any refusal to refer to a transgender person by their relevant pronouns would constitute unlawful discrimination or harassment under the Equality Act.

Dr Mackereth was a contract worker for employment agency Advanced Personnel Management at DWP’s assessment centre in Birmingham.

Upon beginning his role in May 2018, he attended an induction session in which another worker asked how assessors should refer to transgender claimants. The lead physician said it was DWP’s policy that transgender individuals would be referred to by their preferred name, gender pronoun and title.

Dr Mackereth told the physician that he did not have an issue with using whatever first name the service user wished to use, but as a Christian he did have an issue using pronouns inconsistent with the person’s birth gender.

The tribunal heard that a few days later he was called out of work for an urgent meeting with APM’s contract manager to ask him about his beliefs in relation to the use of pronouns. He claimed the meeting culminated in being asked: “if you have a man six feet tall with a beard, who says he wants to be addressed as ‘she’ and ‘Mrs’; would you do that?”. He said he would not be able to do so.

He claimed he was then told DWP would not allow him to work directly with clients if he did not agree to use claimants’ chosen pronouns. As he did not have enough experience to work solely with case notes rather than attend face-to-face meetings, this suggestion meant he was likely to lose his job.

The following day Dr Mackereth left work early because he felt too upset and distracted to carry out his work properly. However, he claimed he was suspended, which was denied by DWP and APM.

On 25 June, APM sent him an email stating: “On behalf of DWP we would like to ask you one final time whether you would follow the agreed process as discussed in your training and that in any assessment you conduct, that you refer to the customer by their chosen sexuality and name? We are of course happy to provide help and support on this. If however you do not wish to do this, we will respect your decision and your right to leave the contract.” Dr Mackereth responded that he could not do so because of his Christian faith.

In the tribunal’s decision published last week, Judge Christopher Perry said refusing to refer to a transgender person by their relevant pronouns, titles and sex would be discriminatory and noted that any person holding Dr Mackereth’s beliefs would have been treated by the DWP and APM in the same way as somebody who did not hold such beliefs.

He said: “It is important given the public interest in this case that we make clear this case did not concern whether Dr Mackereth is a Christian and if that qualifies for protection under the Equality Act. That was never in dispute. Nor do we have any doubt that he also genuinely (and fervently) held the beliefs we set out in full or his entitlement to hold those beliefs.

“What this case concerned is whether he was entitled to manifest those beliefs in the circumstances that applied here. He accepted that his beliefs meant that insofar as a service user was a transgender individual within the meaning of the Equality Act, that whilst he did not wish them to, his actions would cause offence and potentially breach the Equality Act.

“We find that if the service user also held a full gender recognition certificate Dr Mackereth’s position was that he would also potentially breach the Gender Recognition Act for the reasons we give above.”

Dr Mackereth intends to appeal the decision. He said: “Without intellectual and moral integrity, medicine cannot function and my 30 years as a doctor are now considered irrelevant compared to the risk that someone else might be offended.

“I believe that I have to appeal in order to fight for the freedom of Christians – and any other NHS member of staff – to speak the truth.

“If they cannot, then freedom of speech has died in this country, with serious ramifications for the practice of medicine in the UK.”

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