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Tribunal upholds school worker’s dismissal over social-media posts on LGBT issues

30 October 2020

PA

Kristie Higgs outside the Civil Justice Centre in Bristol

Kristie Higgs outside the Civil Justice Centre in Bristol

THE dismissal of a Christian employee by a school because of her social-media posts on LGBT issues has been upheld by an employment tribunal.

Kristie Higgs, aged 44, had alleged that she had been unlawfully discriminated against on the ground of religion, but the tribunal rejected her case. She was fired last year from her job as a pastoral administrator and work-experience manager at Farmor’s School, Fairford, in Gloucestershire, over two Facebook posts that she had shared with about 100 friends in October 2018. In one post, she forwarded an article on the alleged rise of transgender ideology in children’s books in schools in the United States, to which she commented: “They are brainwashing our children.”

In the second post, she forwarded an article on gender fluidity, which described it as a “perverted vision”. Copies of the posts were sent anonymously to the school head teacher, and the sender suggested that Mrs Higgs “seems to find . . . obnoxious” a category of person which would include several children at the school. Mrs Higgs was suspended and later dismissed after a disciplinary hearing.

At the tribunal, she contended that her religious beliefs had resulted in her mistreatment. They included accepting the literal truth of the Bible, in particular Genesis 1.27: “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” She did not believe in same-sex marriage, saying that its legalisation was contrary to biblical teaching, and that marriage was a divinely instituted, lifelong union between one man and one woman.

She also rejected gender fluidity, or the idea that someone could change their biological sex/gender, and opposed sex and/or relationship education in primary schools. She believed that when unbiblical ideas or ideologies were promoted, she should publicly witness to biblical truth.

She denied being homophobic and transphobic, and told the tribunal that she “loved everyone”.

During last month’s tribunal hearing, a school governor, Stephen Conlan, said: “We were not concerned with Mrs Higgs’s religious beliefs. We were concerned with the manner in which those beliefs were expressed.”

The tribunal ruled that her dismissal for gross misconduct was not related to her Christian beliefs, but contravened the school’s code of conduct on the use of social media.

In a written judgment, the tribunal judge, Derek Reed, said: “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. It was a suspicion that she had done so that brought about the entire process.

“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.

“We concluded that, not only the dismissal, but the entire proceedings taken against Ms Higgs were motivated by a concern on the part of the school that, by reason of her posts, she would be perceived as holding unacceptable views in relation to gay and trans people — views which in fact she vehemently denied that she did hold.”

Mrs Higgs said that she was “disappointed” with the judgment, and planned to appeal.

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