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Prof Jo Phoenix wins landmark case against Open University

Prof Jo Phoenix wins landmark case against Open University


Discrimination and harassment due to gender critical beliefs were central to the case

In a ground breaking decision, Professor Jo Phoenix has emerged victorious in her gender critical discrimination case against the Open University. The Employment Tribunal, in a judgment delivered on Monday, 22 January 2024, ruled in favor of Prof Phoenix on multiple counts, including direct discrimination, harassment, constructive dismissal, wrongful dismissal, post-employment victimization, and post-employment harassment.

Prof Jo Phoenix, who served as a professor at the Open University from 1 August 2016 until her resignation on 2 December 2021, asserted that she faced harassment and discrimination based on her gender critical beliefs. She contended that the Open University failed to provide adequate support and protection, leading to her resignation and subsequent constructive dismissal. Prof Phoenix claimed ongoing harassment even after her employment termination.

The Watford Employment Tribunal supported Prof Phoenix's claims, stating that the complaints of discrimination and harassment related to her gender critical beliefs were well-founded. The tribunal also acknowledged her constructive unfair dismissal, wrongful dismissal, post-employment victimization, and post-employment harassment claims.

Expressing her satisfaction with the tribunal's decision, Prof Jo Phoenix stated, "I am delighted that the tribunal found in my favour. It was an exceptionally painful part of my career, but I am glad for the win. Universities must act to protect their gender critical staff."

Prof Phoenix emphasized the importance of recognising diverse viewpoints and fostering tolerance for alternative views within academic institutions. She highlighted the tribunal's affirmation that accusations of transphobia against those holding gender critical views, coupled with efforts to create a hostile environment, are forms of unlawful harassment.

Annie Powell, partner at Leigh Day representing Prof Jo Phoenix, criticized the Open University's failure to protect Phoenix from discrimination and harassment. Powell expressed hope that this case would deter further mistreatment of academics based on their protected beliefs.

"The OU failed to protect Jo from serious discrimination and harassment by colleagues who wanted to shut down her research group. We hope we see no further cases of academics being treated so badly because of their protected beliefs," said Annie Powell.

This landmark decision brings attention to the challenges faced by academics with gender critical beliefs and emphasizes the need for universities to uphold diversity of viewpoints and protect staff from discrimination and harassment.