Kristie Higgs, the Christian school worker sacked for Facebook posts raising her concerns about transgenderism and sex education, has her appeal heard at the Employment Appeal Tribunal this week.
Higgs, 45, is attempting to overturn a 2020 ruling at the employment tribunal which ruled that Farmor’s secondary school in Fairford, Gloucestershire, did not directly discriminate against or harass her on the basis of religion when it dismissed her.
Having worked for seven years as a pastoral assistant at the school, Higgs was summarily dismissed in early 2019 after sharing a petition against relationship and sex education at the neighbouring primary school attended by her youngest son.
After making the posts on her private Facebook account, Farmor’s head teacher was passed an anonymous complaint about the posts, which described them as “homophobic and prejudiced to the LGBT community”.
Higgs was suspended and an investigation into her conduct launched. The process culminated in a meeting at a hotel, in which it is alleged she was subjected to six hours of “intimidating” questioning and her posts being compared to “pro-Nazi” views.
Bristol employment tribunal’s judgment concluded that there was no causal connection between her religious beliefs and how she was treated. “Our view was that her treatment was not because of the relevant beliefs and accordingly her claim of direct discrimination failed,” it said.
Transgender views in the courts
Judge Reed added: “The act of which we concluded Mrs Higgs was accused and eventually found guilty was posting items on Facebook that might reasonably lead people who read her posts to conclude that she was homophobic and transphobic. That behaviour, the school felt, had the potential for a negative impact in relation to various groups of people, namely pupils, parents, staff and the wider community.
“We were also conscious that Mrs Higgs made it clear that she had no intention of desisting from making any further such posts in the future.”
The ruling said that Higgs’ beliefs are protected by the Equality Act, but she was dismissed because some of the content in the articles that she linked to could lead someone to think that she “was hostile towards the LBGT community, and trans people in particular”.
Barrister Richard O’Dair, representing Higgs, argued before the appeal was granted that “it is not transphobic to have doubts about gender reassignment for children”. He described the tribunal’s conclusions as “perverse” and “not a view to which one can come if one has a proper understanding of free speech”.
Higgs, who is supported by the Christian Legal Centre, said: “I was punished for sharing concerns about relationships and sex education. I hold these views because of my Christian beliefs, beliefs and views which are shared by hundreds of thousands of parents across the UK.
“My number one concern has always been the effect that learning about sex and gender in school will have on children at such a young age. I have not discriminated against anyone, and never would.
“I was raising concerns about my son being educated in matters that are not aligned with my religious beliefs and people could choose to agree or disagree. I would never tell others what to think. My bigger worry was that they were introducing the confusing idea of changing gender to children at such a young age in a Church of England primary school.
“I am disappointed that the Church of England has failed to come out and support me and instead appear to be endorsing gender confusion in their primary schools. I am encouraged that the tribunal will hear my appeal and pray for justice this week.”
My number one concern has always been the effect that learning about sex and gender in school will have on children at such a young age. I have not discriminated against anyone, and never would” – Kristie Higgs, claimant
Her lawyers will argue that in affirming the school’s position, the employment tribunal erred in law and demonstrated a “manifestly incorrect understanding” of freedom of speech.
They will contend that no reasonable and informed person, having read Higgs’s posts, could conclude anything other than that the posts were a critique of a certain approach to education, whether held by members of the LGBT community or non-LGBT secular liberals.
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “Kristie has supposedly been dismissed, not for the posts she made, but for a deliberately distorted and unkind interpretation of the content that she linked to.
“Even though her post was private to her family and friends she is being held responsible for what others might do with it. Even though no one actually thinks or claimed that Kristie holds hateful views, she was fired because one anonymous ‘friend’ said they were and because others might think the same.
“It is clear no actual harm has come to the school’s reputation as a result of her posts, but that she has been sacked as if it had. The posts were not even in relation to the secondary school but about the books being read in her son’s primary school. This hearing has exposed a clear injustice and we will support Kristie for as long as it takes to overturn this judgment.”
A spokesman for Farmor’s School said at the time of the 2020 judgment: “The school, at all times, has worked to ensure that all our pupils are treated with equality, so they can thrive in an inclusive environment. We recognise and respect the rights of all our pupils, families and employees to hold and manifest their beliefs.
“The school’s actions were in response to the particular language used on social media, which was not reflective of our ethos as a school.”
Higgs’ case is being heard at the EAT in London on 1-2 March 2022. Later in the month (28-29 March) Dr David Mackereth will have his appeal heard against the employment tribunal’s decision in his claim for religious discrimination and harassment, after he lost his job as a health and disabilities assessor for the Department for Work and Pensions. His case is also supported by the Christian Legal Centre.