Gillian Philip fights for authors' rights

by The Free Speech Union

Gillian Philip fights for authors' rights

by The Free Speech Union
The Free Speech Union
Case Owner
The Free Speech Union is 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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Latest: Sept. 15, 2022

Permission to appeal granted

Dear all,

Thanks to your generous support, and the sterling work of Gillian's legal team (Shah Qureshi of Irwin Mitchell and barrister David Mitchell), permission has been granted for Gillian to b…

Read more

Gillian Philip continues to fight for a woman’s right to state biological facts without fear of losing her job.

As you may know, Gillian has brought an Employment Tribunal claim against publishers Working Partners and HarperCollins. Gillian argues that she was unlawfully discriminated against when her contract to write children’s books was terminated because of her gender critical views.

A preliminary hearing was held to determine whether Gillian’s claim had been filed in time and whether she had rights under the Equality Act 2010 as a worker or employee of Working Partners. Legal representation was funded by a previous CrowdJustice campaign, and due to supporters’ generosity Gillian had top-drawer representation – Shah Qureshi of Irwin Mitchell solicitors and barrister David Mitchell.

Gillian narrowly lost the preliminary hearing and now seeks to appeal so that a tribunal can eventually hear her case. While the appeal is ostensibly on a narrow point of law, the issues at stake here are anything but narrow – this concerns the legal rights of thousands of precariously employed people who make their living through creative expression.

The judge at the Employment Tribunal described Gillian’s situation as close to unique. Gillian won on the trickiest aspect of her case, delay in bringing a claim. The judge found that it was just and equitable to allow her case to be pleaded after the time limit because in the immediate aftermath of her job loss she was depressed following the death of her husband. This depression was exacerbated by the way in which Gillian was treated by Working Partners/HarperCollins. Incredibly, even in the witness box, Working Partners Managing Director Chris Snowdon continued to insist that the death of Gillian’s husband should have made no difference to her and her children.

However, on the second issue argued at the Preliminary Hearing, the judge considered that Gillian was not a ‘worker’, and so her gender-critical beliefs did not enjoy protection under the Equality Act.

Importantly, the judge conceded he did not have all the necessary evidence before him to make such a decision. The reason for the lack of evidence was the deliberate refusal of Working Partners to supply documents ordered by the judge previously.

Gillian’s solicitors therefore wrote to the Employment Tribunal requesting a reconsideration of the judgment, in accordance with applicable Tribunal rules where orders have been breached by one of the parties. The application did not succeed, and Gillian will need to apply to appeal the judge’s decision.

Whether contract writers are ‘workers’ is an important question of law. Without such status, writers do not benefit from the protection of either employment legislation regarding unfair dismissal or the Equality Act. So unscrupulous employers will continue to get away with arrangements intended to side-step these protections by designating a freelancer as ‘independent’, giving them the power to silence writers.

It is in the interests of everyone that authors – people like Gillian who entertain and inspire us – enjoy the legal protections they need to express themselves freely and securely. This is especially important because the publishing industry is facing an outbreak of close-mindedness. Gillian is not the only writer to suffer for expression gender critical beliefs. Behind high-profile cases, such as Kate Clanchy, Julie Burchill and Jenny Lindsay, is a culture of intolerance in which contract-writers and editors can be stripped of their livelihood for having the wrong opinion. They tend to be women.

The purpose of employment law is to prevent people having to work excessive hours and protect them against being paid too little. Formal employees are protected, as are hired hands who are substantively and economically in the same position as formal employees. However, the judge at the preliminary hearing found that Gillian was not a worker because, among other reasons, she was able to accept other work, she earned a minor share of royalties and stood to get an increase in her advance for the next project with the same employer.  The judge described this as Gillian “being able to look after” herself. This does not accord with reality of a writer pumping out copy to order for low pay under tight deadlines. Once again, the judge said her status depended on an analysis of all the evidence, and accepted that he had not seen all the evidence.

Gillian’s situation is thus eminently appealable. But she will once again need your help. Gillian and the Free Speech Union are particularly keen to hear from ghost writers and journalists on stringer contracts about how they are controlled by their publishers, since that might be helpful in this case. This appeal could be of groundbreaking importance in the publishing industry, determining not only the freedom of speech rights for contract writers, but also pay and conditions. If Uber drivers can break free, so can authors. Please join the fight.

Update 1

The Free Speech Union

Sept. 15, 2022

Permission to appeal granted

Dear all,

Thanks to your generous support, and the sterling work of Gillian's legal team (Shah Qureshi of Irwin Mitchell and barrister David Mitchell), permission has been granted for Gillian to bring her case to the Employment Appeal Tribunal.

Gillian will now have the chance to persuade a superior court of record that in writing novels under the close control of her publishers she was a worker, entitled to the protections of the Equality Act 2010.

This is a timely opportunity to protection writers and others workers in an increasingly intolerant and precarious sector.

Many congratulations, Gillian.

FSU

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