Almut Gadow - standing against indoctrination and for academic freedom

by Free Speech Union

Almut Gadow - standing against indoctrination and for academic freedom

by Free Speech Union
Free Speech Union
Case Owner
We are a non-partisan, mass membership public interest body that stands up for the speech rights of its members and campaigns for free speech more widely.
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Free Speech Union
Case Owner
We are a non-partisan, mass membership public interest body that stands up for the speech rights of its members and campaigns for free speech more widely.
Pledge now

This case is raising funds for its stretch target. Your pledge will be collected within the next 24-48 hours (and it only takes two minutes to pledge!)

Latest: Nov. 30, 2023

4-week hearing in February/March 2025 and other updates

It’s about time I posted an update on my case to all those who are generously backing it.

Some observant readers of my CrowdJustice page have already noticed that the lawyers listed on it change…

Read more

My name is Almut Gadow. For almost 10 years, I taught law at the Open University. I was dismissed for questioning new requirements to indoctrinate students in gender identity theory, in ways which, I felt, distorted equality law and normalised child sexual exploitation.

I am bringing an employment tribunal claim arguing that I was harassed, discriminated against, and unfairly dismissed because I reject gender ideology and believe in academic freedom, and that this breached human rights protections for academic free expression.

Who am I? 

I grew up in a family of thought criminals. My grandfather was an undergraduate when the Nazis cleansed academia of wrongthinkers and their ideas. Rather than continue at an ideologically compliant university, he completed his studies at an illicit underground institution.  He was then repeatedly tried for speech crimes and eventually sentenced to death by hanging ‘for destructive behaviour through statements in sermons and in dealing with [Nazi] party material’. 

I see free speech as a distinguishing feature between democracy and totalitarianism, not a battleground between left and right.  My family has seen both German dictatorships, the fascist and the socialist, right and left, suppress speech and purge academia of dissent and dissenters.  I hope my daughter can one day go to a university that does not eliminate wrongthink(ers). 

My story

In 2021/22 the Open University’s Equality, Diversity and Inclusion department announced plans to incorporate its political ideologies into ‘all current curriculum’.  The law degree on which I taught was redesigned around a ‘core theme’ of ‘liberating the curriculum’, reflecting these ideologies.  

Criminal law tutors were told that, to ‘liberate the curriculum’, our classes now had to introduce diverse gender identities and teach students to use offenders’ preferred pronouns. I questioned if incorporating gender identity theory might be an unnecessary distraction or even unwise. I described gender theory as hotly contested, and as recently developed in wealthy Western countries. I pointed out that (not) believing in gender identity is a protected religious or philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010, and said law tutorials are no place to promote one's beliefs.

I also highlighted some of the implications of describing offenders according to self-identified gender in our work. I said a criminal lawyer’s role is to present facts, that sex is a relevant fact for offences involving perpetrators’ and/or victims’ bodies, and that no offender should be allowed to dictate the language of his case in a way which masks relevant facts.   I said an assailant’s language about himself and his offence should not automatically be adopted over his victim’s, and that lawyers and courts sometimes need to describe offenders in terms with which the latter might not agree – calling the innocent-identifying perpetrator ‘guilty’, or the trans-identifying male ‘he’.

When I raised these questions, in an online forum for law tutors to discuss what they teach, management had no answers.  Months later, they were cited as reasons for my dismissal. Managers spuriously alleged that my ‘unreasonable questions’ had created an environment which ‘isn’t inclusive, trans-friendly or respectful’, thus violating the transgender staff policy and codes of conduct. In fact, I had broken no lawful rule by probing the academic soundness of what I was expected to teach. 

I further incurred the wrath of the curriculum liberators when I asked them to define their key concepts such as ‘LGBTQ+’. It had become apparent to me that some treated ‘minor attraction’ (i.e. paedophilia) as part of the ‘diverse sexualities and gender identities’ Open University law teaching now seeks to ‘centre’.  The criminal law module culminated in an assignment in which students had to discuss a relationship between an adult and a minor. Students would gain marks by describing child and adult as each other’s ‘boyfriends’, but lose marks if they considered whether the adult was grooming the child or committing a sexual offence.

My request for clarification was spuriously described as further misconduct. Curriculum liberators complained that it had made them feel undermined, harassed, bullied and reputationally damaged. In fact, asking colleagues to explain core concepts of their output is just part of everyday academic work, but curriculum liberators were unable to do so here.

My legal case 

Assisted at no cost by the Free Speech Union, I am launching a legal claim in the Employment Tribunal. I am arguing that I have been unfairly dismissed, harassed, and discriminated against because I reject gender ideology and believe in academic freedom.  My case raises complex points of human rights, academic freedom, free expression and equality law.

‘Academic free expression’ is at the heart of my tribunal case.  This concept, set out in a string of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, encapsulates how article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights protects academic freedom – not least by prohibiting universities from penalising academics for questioning our institutions or curricula.  UK courts have yet to properly consider ECtHR case law on academic free expression. In seeking judicial guidance on this from an English employment tribunal, my case can hopefully entrench these protections in domestic law.

I will also argue that valuing academic freedom is, in itself, a protected belief under the Equality Act. Establishing this in law could protect many other academics whose careers are threatened by the rising tide of intolerance on UK campuses.

Why I need your help 

I am crowdfunding to support my employment tribunal claim against the Open University. Akua Reindorf KC, whose name has become almost synonymous with her ground-breaking work on the academic freedom of gender critical academics, will represent me in the tribunal. However, a legal challenge of this type requires an enormous amount of work, which needs to be funded.

The likely total cost of funding this claim up to trial will be around £250,000. Rather than raise the full amount now, I will ‘stretch’ the target as the claim proceeds. This will allow me to provide accurate cost estimates, and will avoid raising more money than I need in order to fund the claim.

Although litigation can be unpredictable, I plan to raise funds at three milestones:

  • Milestone one: £70,000 to cover the cost of the preliminary hearing, disclosure of documents and preparation of a trial bundle.
  • Milestone two: £90,000 covering the drafting of witness statements, potential applications to the Tribunal and for contingency costs in the run-up to trial.
  • Milestone three: £90,000 for the cost of trial including preparation.

All figures include VAT and estimated counsel’s fees. Once the initial target is met, funds raised will be transferred to the Free Speech Union which will hold the money in trust for the payment of fees as they arise. Any unused funds will be returned to CrowdJustice in accordance with its terms. I will update this page throughout to inform you of the progress of my case.

If you can, please consider donating, or sharing this page. 

This is a very important case, with potentially far-reaching repercussions for the University sector. It demonstrates the link between highly ideological, terminologically vague Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion policies - which are rife across the sector - and acts of discrimination against University members for their lawful beliefs. It also shows how University pedagogy is being unreasonably constrained by a narrow set of shallow ideas, high on emotion and low on evidence, at the behest of activist groups. A positive outcome for the claimant in this case will be of great significance, not just to University staff, but to the young minds they teach in future. 
Dr Kathleen Stock, author of Material Girls

Donating to Almut’s case is an investment in a more free and tolerant future for UK academia. Dismissal of permanent academic staff for voicing their ideas is rare and very serious. This case provides the best opportunity yet to establish a strong legal precedent in favour of academic free expression that will protect all UK academics under threat because of their lawful views, especially those who believe in the reality of biological sex.
Bryn Harris, Chief Legal Counsel, Free Speech Union

Update 4

Free Speech Union

Nov. 30, 2023

4-week hearing in February/March 2025 and other updates

It’s about time I posted an update on my case to all those who are generously backing it.

Some observant readers of my CrowdJustice page have already noticed that the lawyers listed on it changed a few days ago. So let me start by explaining this change. It reflects the fact that my solicitor has moved to what someone once described to me as the TERFs’ law firm of choice.

From the outset, I have said that I am hoping my case will clarify and develop UK law on academic free expression. So, when I commenced legal action against the Open University, I instructed James Murray, a solicitor with an unequalled publication record on this specific niche of law.

Last month, James Murray then moved to Doyle Clayton – a firm which has become something of a household name in the gender critical world. Past clients of Doyle Clayton’s include Maya Forstater in her claim against CGD Europe, Raquel Rosario Sánchez in her case against the University of Bristol, the LGB Alliance when Mermaids challenged its charity status, and Sibyl Ruth in her action against Cornerstones.  The firm also continues to represent James Esses in his case against his former course provider, and Pilgrim Tucker in her case against the Open University.

From my perspective it was just rather fortuitous that the solicitor with the exact expertise my case requires has now found his way to a firm with a strong track record in cases of this nature. My counsel at the tribunal will still be Akua Reindorf KC. The Free Speech Union continues to support my case but all funds will now be transferred directly to Doyle Clayton.

In short, you simply could not put together a better legal team for this case than I now have.

We remain confident that my claim, and the legal points I raise in it, will ultimately succeed. But getting there will be a long slog. I fear that the Open University’s strategy will rely heavily on having deeper pockets, and trying to make legal action against them prohibitively expensive.  CrowdJustice alone hosts the funding appeal of a gender critical professor whose tribunal hearing took three weeks as the Open University wished to call 18 (!) witnesses, as well as the appeal of a gender critical PhD student against whom the Open University has initiated disciplinary proceedings over her crowdfunding appeal twice.

In my case, because the Open University have said they will call around 15 and potentially up to 20 witnesses, there will be a four-week (!) hearing.  I will leave each reader to reach his or her own conclusions why the Open University feels its defence case needs this.  In time, and as we get closer to the hearing, this may mean that we will have to revise up the cost estimate, because we were, of course, not expecting to spend a month in court.  At the current stage in the process, the amount of legal work that goes into my case, and with it the costs compared to our original estimate, are not significantly affected by the Open University’s high-resource approach.  So we have not changed the estimate for now.

My case had been listed for a full-day preliminary hearing on 31 October, for the Employment Tribunal to consider striking out part of my claim against the Open University.  Eventually, the Open University accepted facts it could have accepted five months earlier, and asked the tribunal not to consider striking out any part of my claim after all. It did so only after much work and expense had already gone into preparing for the hearing.

The final hearing has now been listed for 24 February to 21 March 2025.  We have requested video access to the hearing to be made available, for live tweeters and members of the public who wish to follow the proceedings.  While this has not yet been formally confirmed, neither the judge nor the Open University opposed the request in principle, so I hope this will be available.

And that pretty much brings me up to date.  Ahead lie many months (fifteen months, to be precise) of working with my legal team to prepare the case for the 2025 hearing – to collate and exchange documentary evidence, to prepare a bundle of documents for the trial, to prepare witness statements and generally get trial ready. For now, there is still money in the pot to pay for the ongoing work.  In the new year, I expect a point will come where we have to open another round of fundraising. 

While there may not be much to update you on before the new year, it is definitely too early for season’s greetings.  So I will instead close by thanking you again for your ongoing support.

Almut


Update 3

Free Speech Union

Sept. 12, 2023

Milestone 1 reached!

Dear all,

Thank you!  Two thousand one hundred and eighty-two times, thank you.

Less than four weeks after the first donation to this crowd funder, the 2182nd pledge took us past our first milestone of £70,000 to cover the preliminary phase of my case last night. That is a phenomenal result.  And if you’re reading this, chances are you played your part in it.   

Hundreds of you had a choice between either spending your hard-earned money on yourselves, in the middle of a cost of living crisis, or donating it to help defend a perfect stranger’s academic free expression – and chose the latter!!  I truly believe that freedom is undefeatable in a society in which people would do that.  

 I could not overstate the difference this is making to me and to my case.  We remain as hopeful as ever of ultimately succeeding with my claim, and of securing some clarification of academics’ employment rights around free expression in the process. 

Yet strong though my case may be, I am not holding my breath for a quick victory, nor expecting a low-intensity battle.  In its public statements on my case, the Open University has promised a show of ‘strength’ and ‘vigour’ – as distinct from sound reason or substance. It would not be the first employer to try and turn tribunal litigation into a battle of matériel, hoping its vastly greater resources will prevail where it cannot win the argument. 

Such a strategy naturally disintegrates once Goliath’s opponent is equipped for an equal fight. Your donations allow me to counter vigour with vigour.  Thanks to your generous support, I can rely on the first rate legal team we have instructed to progress my case and work towards winning on its rights and wrongs. 

So I will say it again: Thank you.

-Almut

Update 2

Free Speech Union

Aug. 20, 2023

Halfway there!

Hi all,

Two days after the launch of my case we are halfway to the initial target of 70k! I am, again, overwhelmed with gratitude for your generosity and kindness. 

35k and over a thousand pledges - Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Let’s keep fighting. 

-Almut

Update 1

Free Speech Union

Aug. 18, 2023

Thank you!!

Hi all, 

Wow, I am truly overwhelmed by the support my case has generated in such a short span on time - thank you! My page has been 'live' for 9 days but was only officially launched this morning by the Free Speech Union with little more than £100 in the pot. With your amazing support I've now hit my initial target of £10,000, which means I'm nearly 15% of the way towards covering the first milestone of my case: £70,000 to cover the cost of the preliminary hearing, disclosure of documents and preparation of a trial bundle.

Please keep sharing this page and continue to pledge your support if possible. 

Together we can fight for a more free future.   

Thank you. 

-Almut


  

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