former Professor of Criminology at the Open University (OU) has become the latest in a series of gender critical feminists (i.e., feminists who believe sex is biological, immutable and should take precedence over gender identity in policy and in law) to win employment tribunals.
Professor Jo Phoenix, who established the OU’s Gender Critical Research Network (GCRN), has won her unfair dismissal claim against the institution. In its ruling, the tribunal also found that she suffered victimisation and harassment, as well as direct discrimination.
Tensions first emerged at the OU in 2018 after Professor Phoenix and 53 other academics signed a letter to The Guardian newspaper raising concerns about the introduction of self-ID for trans people wanting to undergo gender reassignment.
When Professor Phoenix subsequently gave a talk at a Woman’s Place UK event in 2019 on the topic of trans rights, sex-based rights and the curtailment of academic freedom, more departmental pearl-clutching ensued.
Three months later, in June 2019, The Sunday Times published a letter signed by Prof Phoenix and other academics registering “disquiet over a perceived inappropriately close relationship between the LGBTQ+ charity Stonewall and UK universities”.
Later that year, Prof Westmarland reduced Prof Phoenix to tears when she raised her gender-critical views in a meeting. “Prof Westmarland said to [Prof Phoenix] that ‘having you in the department was like having a racist uncle at the Christmas dinner table’,” the tribunal found, and that in doing so, she “was effectively telling the Claimant off for expressing her gender critical beliefs”.
Professor Phoenix eventually resigned from the OU in December 2021, saying she had been made to feel like a “pariah” and then took the university to the tribunal.
Upholding almost 20 of Prof Phoenix’s claims, the tribunal, chaired by employment judge Jennifer Young, said:
We do not consider that the [university] had a proper reason for allowing the harassment to continue without publicly taking action to prohibit it.
In a statement on X, formerly Twitter, Prof Phoenix described her victory as: “A message to all universities: you cannot stand back and allow gender critical academics to be hounded out of their jobs”.
The case is “groundbreaking” in the sense that “academic free expression” lies at its heart.