Legal opinion says promotion policy discriminates on basis of gender-critical beliefs

Academics who reject trans ideology face unlawful discrimination

Earlier this year Sex Matters was approached by Dr John Armstrong, a reader in mathematics at King’s College London (KCL). Dr Armstrong was applying for promotion, but was concerned that the “EDI” (equality, diversity and inclusion) section of the application, which required applicants to demonstrate their commitment to ideas about sex and gender he doesn’t agree with, would count against him. He asked us for informal advice.

Our analysis suggested that KCL’s promotion policy was unlawful in several respects, so we asked Akua Reindorf KC to provide us with a legal opinion. She concluded that the policy was likely to constitute unlawful discrimination on grounds of gender-critical belief, and that it would also be likely to contravene the new law on academic freedom due to come into force in August. 

Some salient points:

“I think it strongly arguable that KCL’s approach to EDI in respect of sex and gender conflicts with and/or actively contradicts the law in certain key respects, and that it is partisan and ideological in nature.”

“KCL’s various policies, training materials and guidance relating to the protected characteristics of sex and gender reassignment are incorrect, as a matter of law, in several substantial respects.”

“It is demonstrable that Stonewall and Athena Swan promote the gender identity belief, not least by the fact that many of the errors and misstatements referred to above have their genesis in materials produced by those organisations.”

“[I]t seems to me that the requirement to demonstrate allegiance to the EDI ambitions as a criterion for advancement places those with gender critical beliefs at a particular disadvantage when compared to others.”

Action needed

We call on KCL to: 

  • commit to an immediate and full review of its hiring and promotion criteria as well as its wider EDI policies in order to bring these into line with the law
  • commit to ending unlawful discrimination against staff with gender-critical views. 

This legal opinion relates specifically to KCL. But similar policies are common across academia. We therefore also call on all higher-education institutions to leave the Stonewall and Advance HE Athena Swan schemes, which promote HR, hiring and promotion policies that constitute unlawful belief discrimination and are inimical to academic freedom, and are therefore inimical to the very purpose of universities.

Finally, we call on Universities UK, the Office for Students and the Department for Education to take a leadership role by publicising this legal advice to sector leaders, and to consider steps they can take to protect gender-critical university staff from belief discrimination and end the threats posed to academic freedom by policies like this.

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