In a case that dates back to September 2020, a teaching assistant was sacked after she posted homophobic and prejudiced views about the LGBTQIA+ community on Facebook. According to what was revealed in the tribunal, Kristie Higgs reposted a post related to teaching children about same-sex relationships, same-sex marriages and about gender fluidity and said, “They are brainwashing our children”.
Mrs Higgs had been working in Farmors School since 2012 and, at the time of the events that occurred, was working as a pastoral administrator and work experience manager. Additionally, as an extension of her role, she was responsible to support kids who were disruptive.
What Exactly Happened?
On 26th October 2018, five years after her employment, a complaint was filed against Mrs Higgs relating to the Facebook posts. Mr Evans, the head teacher, was made aware of what she had been posting on social media and he thanked the person who let him know. He also told them to come forward with anything else they might have, which could be offensive.
Shortly after, Mr Evans received another set of offensive screenshots where she was reposting another article about gender fluidity and described it as a “perverted vision”. Upon speaking to Mrs Higgs about it, Mrs Dorey (School Business Lead) confirmed that the posts were indeed hers. By 31st October, Mr Evan informed Mrs Higgs that she was being suspended and that an investigation of the allegations against her will take place in November.
The investigation went on from the 4th of November till about the 19th of December. The disciplinary meeting itself took place on the 19th of December and in that, Mr Conlan, the disciplinary hearing chair, and two other governors decided she was dismissed. She was informed of her dismissal by a letter dated 7th January 2019.
She appealed this decision by email on 14th January and the appeal hearing took place on 13th February. However, the appeal was dismissed as well, and she was sacked from her job at the school. Subsequently, on 15th April 2019, she presented her claim to the tribunal.
What Did the Tribunal Say?
The case was heard at an employment tribunal in Bristol before Judge Reed. In her case, Mrs Higgs believed that she had been discriminated against and harassed because of her religious beliefs. Within this, she felt it was the fact she wasn’t harassed because she was a Christian or because of her Christianity, but because she did not believe in ideas like:
- Gender fluidity
- Same-sex marriage
- Changing biological sex
- Teaching kids about sex education in primary school etc
The employment tribunal found that the main allegation against Mrs Higgs is related to her behaviour on social media. They stated that her opinion on “American schools hijacking the minds of normal children and cramming their perverted vision of gender fluidity down the throats of unsuspecting school children” was provocative and was intended to be that way.
Because of the post, the ET thought that other readers (like the person who complained against her) may feel that Mrs Higgs is strongly against the LGBTQIA+ community, particularly towards trans people. Furthermore, her beliefs could affect various groups of people in the school such as staff, parents, and children.
The ET felt that there was no connection between her beliefs and the way she was treated. The disciplinary action against her was out of concern for the other people in the school since she had unacceptable views against gay and trans people (which she denied) and was inevitable.
As a result, her claims of direct discrimination and harassment failed at the employment tribunal.
ET Did Not Use the Right Test, says EAT President
The case has ruled in the favour of Mrs Higgs at the appeals tribunal. On 16th June, the EAT sent the case back to the employment tribunal for reconsideration.
The judge at the EAT said the ET should have made a connection between her Facebook posts and her protected beliefs. Moreover, the EAT questioned whether Mrs Higgs’ freedom of expression was kept in mind and if the actions taken by the school were necessary at all.
The EAT found that the ET did not apply the right test before deciding the final outcome. Dismissing the original decision, the President of the Employment Appeals Tribunal, Justice Jennifer Eady said that the right to manifest beliefs, religious or otherwise, is an essential right even if it offends people.
Mrs Higgs is pleased by the outcome and says that she is still very much appalled by sexual ideology being introduced at her son’s Christian school. Furthermore, she feels this has always been about her Christian beliefs.