Harassed, silenced & compared to a racist for my gender critical views
Harassed, silenced & compared to a racist for my gender critical views
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Latest: June 4, 2023
Bullying is not academic debate - less than 4 months to go!
June 2, 2023: Update
It’s that time of month again. Less than 16 weeks until my employment tribunal against The Open University.
The last few weeks gave us a perfect case study in why my claim ag…Read more
My name is Jo Phoenix. I am Professor of Criminology at the Open University.
I am bringing an employment tribunal claim to hold the OU to account for the public campaign of harassment that has made my working life unbearable, and I really need your support.
My hope is that this case will force universities to protect female academics from the vicious bullying perpetrated by those who disagree with our beliefs on sex and gender; bullying that is designed to silence us and our research.
When I accepted this role at the OU in 2016, I described it as a love match. I took a massive pay cut to work here, having previously held senior leadership roles including being Dean at Durham University. What's happening to me has broken my heart.
This position at the OU was my dream job because adult education is personally so important to me. When I was 15, I was raped by two men and then endured a rape trial in 1970s Texas. During this time, I ran away from home and saw more of life than a child should. It was adult education which gave me a way out and allowed me to thrive.
I've been researching sex, gender and justice for two decades and am known around the world for my work. But things started to go horribly wrong at the OU when I expressed views about the silencing of academic debate on trans issues, criticising Stonewall’s influence in universities. I also expressed views that male-bodied prisoners should not be in female prisons, and I set up the Open University Gender Critical Research Network.
As a result, I have been publicly vilified by hundreds of my colleagues in a targeted campaign against members of the Gender Critical Research Network; I have been called transphobic; I have twice been compared to a racist by managers; and I have been silenced and shunned within my department.
I have been made to feel like a pariah and have become very ill as a result.
These are just a few examples of what has happened:
- A senior manager told me that I was “like the racist uncle at the Christmas dinner table.” When I started to cry, she suggested that if I couldn’t cope with it she could put me in touch with counselling services.
- I was instructed not to speak about my research, which includes research on trans rights and the criminal justice system, in departmental meetings.
- Over 360 of my colleagues signed a public letter condemning the Gender Critical Research Network and calling for the OU to remove all support and funding from the network, alleging that gender critical feminism is “fundamentally hostile to the rights of trans people”. This letter also made demonstrably false and extremely damaging accusations about what was said in a podcast that I participated in.
- Another public statement by my colleagues published on the OU’s website expressed "dismay" at the establishment of the Gender Critical Research network, accusing members of the network of having made transphobic statements and of choosing the label “gender critical” as “a deliberate provocation to trans communities.”
- The then Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Representative for my Faculty has published numerous derogatory tweets about gender critical belief, including retweeting a tweet showing my name and photo with a reference to a "transphobic/TERF/GC campaign network".
- I have been given suspiciously few opportunities at work given my seniority and experience.
The OU has shattered my dreams because it has failed to protect me, despite my repeated pleas for them to remove discriminatory and hate-filled statements that my colleagues have published on the OU’s websites.
I have been diagnosed with acute PTSD because of this treatment and have been too unwell to work for months.
My case and why I am crowdfunding
We desperately need to show that this type of treatment is unlawful harassment relating to protected gender critical beliefs.
These issues of sex and gender are so important, and we need to be able to talk about and research them without fear of being hounded out of our jobs. I have been contacted by other academics who would like to join the Gender Critical Research Network but who are now too frightened of being publicly smeared as a transphobe to join.
Above all, I am taking this case to protect academic freedom and freedom of expression.
I am crowdfunding so that I can pay for legal expenses to take this case to the Employment Tribunal.
Be a promoter
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Prof Jo Phoenix
June 4, 2023
Bullying is not academic debate - less than 4 months to go!
June 2, 2023: Update
It’s that time of month again. Less than 16 weeks until my employment tribunal against The Open University.
The last few weeks gave us a perfect case study in why my claim against The Open University is so important as well as an insight into what might be different if I win. Professor Kathleen Stock was invited by Oxford Union to give a talk. There were calls for it to be cancelled. Oxford University staff and students passed motions, wrote open letters, tweeted condemnatory statements all calling on the Union to disinvite Professor Stock in one way or another. The (now standard) accusation was that she is a transphobe because:
- She holds gender critical beliefs – for despite the Forstater ruling, there is a contingent of students and staff in British Universities who refuse to acknowledge that GC beliefs and, indeed, a theoretical perspective, is legitimate. For what it is worth Prof Stock acknowledges that in the broad spectrum of ideas that make up the GC perspective, she is a moderate. I agree and so am I.
- She supports transphobic policies – the accusation being that to privilege sex over gender identity in any context is transphobic. Prof Stock, like myself, does not deny that it is important to protect the rights of individuals who identify as transgender or have gone through gender reassignment. She, like me, argues that in some circumstances safeguarding women and girl, however, means not supporting a liberal self-identification policy. But, there is a contingent within universities who have failed to distinguish the difference between critiquing particular types of policies and being hateful against a specific minority (trans people).
- She supports allegedly transphobic hate groups (namely the LGB Alliance and The Lesbian Project – each of which is set up to protect the rights of individuals who are same sex attracted). To call these groups hate groups is perhaps one of the most difficult things for any moderate – from either side of the political debate – to get their heads around. There are a group of women, like myself, who do not want to have sex with male bodies, yet extremists within our universities are calling that hateful.
The logic of their argument runs like this: Prof Stock’s mere presence, her talking about her point of view and the challenge that GC ideas and beliefs present to the idea that sex doesn’t matter, that trans women are women and that any critique of liberal self-id policies (or Stonewall for that matter!) causes harm to transgender and gender non binary staff and students. I know this all too well. After the OUGCRN was launched, The Open University continued to acknowledge the harm and distress that a research network caused.
Many of us are growing weary now. Prof Stock has been through this all before when a group of determined trans rights activists made it impossible for her to continue to work at Sussex and in academia. In the documentary Gender Wars (which aired on Channel 4 last week), there was a very poignant moment when Prof Stock said it didn’t matter what she says now, there is a contingent of people who have decided that everything she says is transphobic and she cannot dissuade them otherwise. My heart broke for her and us when she said this. To be labelled and monstered is a dreadful thing. But for there to be such an intellectually and academically poor culture in our universities if crushing.
There are many aspects of my case, but one of the important ones is whether unevidenced and vexatious allegations of transphobia made by fellow academics constitutes harassment. I think it does. I was called transphobic for supporting WPUK, for criticising Stonewall and for raising questions about and thinking through whether sex matters more than gender identity in some circumstances – like prisons.
There is another aspect though that has more direct relevance. My case includes an assessment of whether open letters, petitions etc from staff that contain unevidenced allegations of transphobia constitute (i) a hostile environment for gender critical staff and (ii) that being so, whether universities that allow this are places where there is indirect sexual discrimination against women. Either way, a climate in which GC (or even questioning) academics face twitter pile ons, open letters and petitions is certainly a very hostile climate indeed. This is not academic debate. It is bullying.
Even this week, a well know Professor who writes about these things published a talk she gave at a conference. The talk made many assertions about GC feminism – none of which were based in any evidence. Most of the claims were – quite frankly – ridiculous assertions of GC feminism being a protection racket, being far right, bolstering up a racialised capitalist system of oppression, based in Victorian thinking and so on. I did a tongue-in-cheek, rather forthright critique of it on twitter. For that, I have been accused of being a bully and been called names (again). Yet none of the (very few) people who have had a go at me for my critique have dealt with what is a very important aspect of that critique. The Professor failed to provide any evidence of the claims she was making. None. She went as far as to say that there is no GC feminist scholarship. This is a problem. This is like saying that any scholarship based in and around Islamic beliefs is not scholarship, or based in and around Marxist beliefs (after all Marxism is also a political philosophy) is not scholarship. To dismiss an entire school of thought because one does not politically agree with has no place in our academic community.
So, if I win (and I think I have a strong case) the Oxford academics, the UCU and the LGBTQi society would find themselves on the wrong side of employment discrimination law. The Professor who made such egregious comments about GC feminists in a public conference might also find herself on the wrong side of it.
This is important because for every Prof Stock, Prof Sullivan, Prof Phoenix and the rest of us who are able to stand up despite what they throw at us, there are hundreds of other academics and support staff who cannot – for good reasons.
Name-calling, vexatious allegations, cheap stereotyping, the dismissal of an entire belief system and a new theoretical and political perspective as being ‘wrong’ and hateful and harmful have no place in our universities. This is not academic debate. Let’s call it what it is: bullying.
Please help me prove this.
I am less than 16 weeks away from court. I need your help again. I know that many of you have given multiple times and I am exceedingly grateful. I am sorry to keep asking, but I need another £29,000 to prove this and to protect our students and other staff from the egregious behaviour and tactics of bullies. Every effort is important. If you can donate, that is marvellous. If you can spread the word of my case, please do.
Thank you. This fight is such an important one. Academic freedom matters. Debate matters. Bullying is not debate.
More than 4000 people have backed my crowdjustice fund. If 4000 people give just £7.25, I will hit my target.
Jo Phoenix (#AcademicFreedomMatters)
Prof Jo Phoenix
May 1, 2023
21 weeks, 6 days and £34000 to raise
This (rather lengthy) update is not an update about my case, but a message about what can achieved by someone like me working in an institution free from harassment and discrimination on GC grounds.
First a little context for the non-academics.
Academic freedom, research, impact and research capacity building – what academics do for a living:
Academic freedom is not the same as freedom of speech, even if they are close cousins and rely on each other. Academic freedom means that professional knowledge producers are free to question and test received wisdom, to put forward new ideas which may be controversial or unpopular and to do so without risking one's employment. Academics are not activists, even if some do also engage in political activism.
As an academic my job is not only to conduct research but also to attract Phd students in order to bring on the next generation, to win research grants to support our work, and to generate impact. Impact is officially defined as an “effect on, change or benefit to the economy, society, culture, public policy or services, health, the environment or quality of life beyond academia”. How well we do these things is audited by something called the Research Excellence Framework (REF). The REF is carried out every 5 – 7 years. This exercise creates the league table of universities ranked by research power and helps to support further research.
This is all a long way to say that part of the job of an academic is research capacity building. I (and Jon Pike) established The Open University Gender Critical Research Network for that precise reason - to support GC academics at the OU and build the capacity of the OU to become a hub for gender critical research and impact. The idea was to create a research group that would be a resource for external organisations looking for academic expertise in the area, attract PhD students wanting to pursue gender critical research and most of all bring people together (external organisations as well as academics) so that they can become more than the sum of their individual parts.
But here is what happened. I (along with others in the network) became mired in the most awful harassment with academics from across the university calling for the university to withdraw support, the university branding and any resources. This had the effect of halting any forward movement for the network and stopped me dead in my tracks. I became ill and I could see no way forward. How could I, for instance, work with external organisations who, in supporting sex-based rights or being ‘gender critical’ would be deemed ‘transphobic’? How would any research proposals I put forward with such organisations get ethics approval if members of that committee saw us as transphobic and harmful to staff and students? After all, no one from the university officially challenged those accusations even to the point that one such public, open letter was left on its website.
Fast forward nearly 18 months
Since arriving at the University of Reading I have had the headspace to think. I have not been fearful of lending my expertise to external organisations who need it. And look what happened:
On March 8 (International Women’s Day), myself, Prof Judith de Suissa, Prof Alice Sullivan and Joan Smith spoke to a full auditorium at the Taliesin Centre at the University of Swansea on the subject of ‘Silencing Women’. Prior to the talk happening, there were calls for it to be cancelled (the irony!) and petitions were written. On the night, there was a protest and it was a peaceful one, but nevertheless the organisers (Outspoken Women) had to hire in and work with University security in order to protect us and ensure the event went ahead. (Here is a link to the youtube video of that event.)
25 March 2023
I gave a talk at the inaugural conference of The Lesbian Project on how little we know about lesbians in the criminal justice system because lesbians (ie same sex attracted females) have been studied as either a subset of the broader category ‘women’ or the category ‘LGBTQI++’. I argued that this is a problem (blog write up of it here). The conference was protested. And, in what is becoming a common theme, there was a need for a visible security presence in order that the conference could go ahead safely.
28 March 2023
Keep Prisons Single Sex organised a celebration of the bicentenary of the Gaol Act 1823 that created sex-segregated prisons in England and Wales. The event was held at the House of Commons and I was one of the speakers, along with Joan Smith (chair), Dr Michael Biggs, Ian Aitcheson, Lord Blencathra. As the House of Commons is very secure, there were no ‘additional’ security measures that needed to be put in place. Here is a link to a blog based on that talk.
17 April 2023
“When We Are At Our Most Vulnerable” was published. It was a joint effort between me and the volunteers of The Women’s Rights Network. I lent my expertise. They collected the data. The report detailed the shocking numbers of rapes and sexual assaults in hospitals (public and private) that were reported to the police nationwide since January 2019. The numbers are horrific: 6500 such assaults, including just over 2000 rapes and incidents that include children under the age of 13. Only 4.1% ended with a charge or summons. And this is only the tip of the iceberg.
The report was covered in all mainstream and print media the day it was published. Two days later, Rosie Duffield MP used it to ask the Prime Minister what his government was going to do about sexual violence in hospitals. For his part, he confirmed that they took the report seriously and would ensure that something was done to protect patients. Within a week, I was interviewed on Colin Wright’s Radio 5 programme, by Andrew Doyle on Free Speech Nation and Heather Binning (WRN) was interviewed on Woman’s Hour, alongside a lawyer from Leigh Day. The report underpins a File on 4 investigation – to be aired later in May. It was even reported in The Washington Post.
Yet, the Women’s Rights Network has itself been branded ‘transphobic’ for being an organisation concerned with women’s sex-based rights. Our report was also branded such because we ask that the police make available the data about the sex of perpetrator and victim and suggest that single sex not single gender identity wards may help to prevent sexual violence.
I don’t think I could have done this work in the summer of 2021, when I was at the OU and the attacks on me were at their height. I would have been frightened that such publicity for the report would have generated more opprobrium, harassment, censure and calls for discrimination by my colleagues. And all the impact that the report would generated and the capacity to use it to build research impact through the OUGCRN lost. For me, the WRN/Phoenix report is a very particular lesson in the importance of both academic freedom and of protecting gc academics.
28 April 2023
I attended and talked at an event organised by Women Talk Back! – a student society at the University of Bristol. The event was called Feminist Lawyers Talk Back and it was about women’s access to justice as seen through the lens of lawyer practitioners. In what is becoming a familiar saga, the event had to be moved from the University of Bristol because of security issues and the University of Bristol’s seeming failure to handle this well. An alternative venue was found and an audience of around 80 were able to hear from Raquel Rosario Sanchez (outgoing President of the society) Akua Reindorf KC, Alice de Coverley, Sarah Phillimore, myself and a Bristol local councillor. Many attendees remarked afterwards that they were shocked by the fact that security was needed for us to assemble and talk about women and the law.
For my part, I hardly see the security presence anymore. I suppose I have become inured to it – although hearing that the security at Swansea University would do a bomb sweep of the Taliesin Centre on the morning of the IWD talk did make me stop and think. I hardly hear the protestors anymore, even though they shout such awful things.
Two years ago it would have been different. I would have been frightened that all the publicity would have generated more opprobrium, harassment, censure and calls for discrimination by my colleagues. I keep thinking that if the WRN approached me two years while I was at the OU, the report may never have been written because of the hostility of the environment I was working in. The WRN/Phoenix report therefore is a lesson in the importance of both academic freedom and of protecting gc academics. The governmental discussion the report started about sexual violence in hospitals may never have happened. This is why universities need to protect academics like me.
So, that’s what I have been up to recently. May and June are dedicated to pushing forward with the hospitals and sexual violence research and impact as well as, importantly, building my case against The Open University.
I still need just under £35,000. Please donate if you can, and please help spread the word of my case.
Academic freedom is important. Working free from harassment is vital. Look at what we can achieve when we are not afraid and not facing down harassment, bullying, discrimination, and a failure of our employers to protect us.
Thank you for all your support.
Prof Jo Phoenix
March 30, 2023
Final Countdown: I need your help again
In 6 months time, I will sit in court face-to-face with my former employer (The Open University) and the people who harassed and bullied me out of my job.
It has been an exceptionally long road and I thank everyone who has supported me and donated to this appeal. I am asking once again for your help.
The Forstater win was critical, but even with our legally protected beliefs the harassment and censuring of gender criticals continues unabated.
If I win, diversity of viewpoints will have to be respected in workplaces and universities will have to protect us. They will have to ensure they create a workplace environment in which academics and students do not harass others, calling them transphobic or anti-trans or submitting vexatious complaints just because someone says that sex matters, that males who identify as women should not be in women-only spaces or for saying it is necessary to protect women's sex-based rights.
Equally as important, if I win it will help address the fear that gender-critical and feminist academics face when challenging gender identity theory. In many of our universities, across many different courses, gender identity theory has become the only theory that is taught about sex, gender and gender identity. Students are not taught a diversity of viewpoints or the critique of gender identity theory. Students then take this one-sided understanding forward in their lives and in their future careers across all sectors.
Help me force universities to protect people like me so that we can provide a better education for our students and make it possible for our feminist and gender critical researchers and academics to do the job they are being paid to do.
If you can, please donate. If you cannot donate - or have given enough already - please help me reach out to new groups, people and audiences.
Thank you once again for all your support and help.
Prof Jo Phoenix
Feb. 15, 2023
33 weeks to go
Friends, Colleagues and Supporters
Those who follow me on twitter will know that I am posting weekly updates about matters related to my Employment Tribunal on a Sunday morning. Apologies for cross posting here.
This last month was a busy one. The bundle is almost agreed. For those unfamiliar with the legal process, 'the bundle' is the collection of evidence that speaks to the questions that are at the heart of my claim. Because so much business is conducted by email these days, most people's bundles contain a lot of email conversations. Anyone who has tried to reconstruct a record of email conversations will know just how much repetition there can be and how difficult it is to construct a paperwork version that follows several email conversations. Hence, the process of creating a clean bundle is as much about ensuring that the documents contained therein follow a logical order and avoid repetition as it is about the *actual* evidence. This is a time-consuming process (thus costly) but very necessary for all parties so that proceedings can run smoothly. There are, as I mentioned before, thousands of pages of evidence. We want to make sure that the bundle that is agreed is in a 'good state' i.e. easily read by counsels as well as employment tribunal members as this will save time (and money) in the long run.
Meanwhile: the nature of the public debate has dramatically shifted in just 4 weeks. Nicola Sturgeon's government seemed to gamble everything by passing a Gender Recognition Reform Act that was (i) guaranteed to put it on a collision course with Westminster and (ii) introduced a process of self-identification that provided few protections for women and girls against predatory males who might also identify as transgender. In the run up to the final vote (December 2022) Scottish campaigners and activists fought hard against the proposed reforms often citing the example of prisons. They were told 'it will never happen'. But it did. Only a few weeks ago a convicted double rapist was placed in Cornton Vale women's prison in Scotland. The Scottish Prison Service rowed back immediately. Sturgeon found herself checkmated politically and today (15th February) resigned as First Minister.
Ministry of Justice and the Scottish Prison Service have announced new prison placement policies that restrict the conditions in which males who also identify as transgender will be placed in the female prison estate.
It seems hardly credible now that challenging the policy of self-identification offered by Stonewall and pointing out the implications of it in the context of prison was what got me branded as the racist uncle sitting at the Christmas dinner table and likened to a Holocaust Denier.
In other news: I was invited to appear on Radio 4's Antisocial to discuss this very matter on 2nd February. On 4th February, I had the privilege of attending UCL / WPUK Women's Liberation conference where a packed auditorium of nearly 1000 people listened to Akua Reindorf KC state that "the age of no debate is over". On February 7th, I gave an academic seminar on the rights and wrongs of self-identification as a prison placement policy at Queen Mary's University. Also on that day, MacDonald Laurier Institute (Canada) published a report they commissioned me to write entitled "Rights and Wrongs: how gender self-identification places women at risk in prison". Perhaps Akua Reindorf is right. I certainly hope so.
I'll post another update next month. In the meantime, thank you for all your ongoing support. For the first time in a long time, I feel that the tide may be turning, and am beginning to look forward to the employment tribunal. Only 33 weeks to go.
Prof Jo Phoenix
Jan. 14, 2023
37 weeks to go
Dear supporters, friends and colleagues
It was just under a month ago I posted a short video on twitter and posted an update that summarised the case and where the case 'was at'. Over the last few months, many new people have donated and many new people have started following me on twitter.
I thank everyone who has given what they can. I know that times are hard for many and I am very appreciative of every single donation - no matter how large or small. I also thank everyone for the comments they leave. I read them most days and am often surprised and touched by what people say.
Over the next 37 weeks, I will be tweeting an update or about something of relevance to the ET every Sunday morning. To distinguish those tweets from the rest of my twitter feed (yes, I also think I get a little carried away with twitter from time to time) I will change my twitter handle to Prof Jo Phoenix - CJ and ET update. CJ stands for crowdjustice and not criminal justice, just in case you were wondering.
Now, a month on, we are still in the process of agreeing the bundle. The stack of documents that we are dealing with is several novels deep (several thousand pages). But we are closer than we were last month.
That's all for now. If you are on twitter, keep an eye out for my Sunday morning tweets starting on the 23rd January 2023.
Prof Jo Phoenix
Nov. 23, 2022
Countdown has started
Academic Freedom should not be used as a justification for harassment against Gender Critical academics
A year ago today I left a job and a university I once loved because my colleagues and my employer made it impossible for me to continue to work there. Their harassment and discrimination of me, the indirect sex discrimination that I experienced and my eventual constructive dismissal were a result of my insistence that academics must be able to talk about the importance of sex over gender identity without being cancelled, silenced, harassed, and discriminated against.
It shouldn’t take an employment tribunal to confirm that and yet this is what is now required to protect GC academics.
The countdown to my court date has started properly. The legal battle has a shape and structure, and I can better predict the total cost. Thousands of people have supported my case, but we are not yet at the finishing line, and I need to ask again for your help. Thanks to Maya Forstater's, Allison Bailey's and LGB Alliance cases (all of which cost more than £200,000) I can better predict the overall costs of mine. Thus, I am increasing the target of this CrowdJustice Fund to £180,000. If 4000 people can donate £15.00 each, we will hit the increased target with plenty of time to spare. The court date is only forty-three weeks away and that feels like a long time, but when you receive legal bills for costly work every month, 43 weeks is only 11 more bills away.
What happened to me?
On December 2, 2021 I resigned my post as Professor of Criminology at The Open University because the University’s behaviour had made it impossible for me to remain (for those who do not know about my case, there is a full background story here).
I have spent 25 years of my professional career analysing the intended and unintended consequences of criminal justice policies that seek to protect the vulnerable and punish offenders. I have researched and written about sexual violence and women’s unequal access to justice for all that time. Yet, I was branded a transphobe for doing things like: criticising Stonewall, believing its guidance has produced a chilling effect on academic freedom (by signing two Letters to the Editor here and here); saying that male prisoners who identify as women have different needs than females in prison (here and here) and starting a research network dedicated to exploring the circumstances in which sex matters more than gender identity (here).
I attended meetings where it was made clear that anyone who held GC beliefs was not welcome. I experienced - for the first time in my life - that unique quality of silence that says very loudly "you are not part of our community of the good and progressive". I listened on as my union colleagues likened people who shared GC beliefs to holocaust deniers and our beliefs as responsible for genocide. I was told by a colleague that sharing the story of the Reindorf Report (exonerating me of transphobia and confirming that my cancellation by the University of Essex 18 months previously was unlawful) was not appropriate for ‘the good news’ section of a School-wide newsletter to all staff because it might upset some people and had already been covered in the news.
I have written about why the attacks and the open letters and statements that were posted by more than 360 of my colleagues after I formed The Open University Gender Critical Research network was so wrong here. When I asked my university to do something about them, the University declined stating that the letters and statements fell within the remit of academic freedom – even though they were making utterly vexatious claims about transphobia, attacking me and my reputation, encouraging mobbing behaviour against me and creating an extraordinarily hostile environment. Those that created that environment did so with impunity and ultimately, their hostility made me unwell.
I know what it is to be silenced, directly and indirectly and gaslit in an environment where colleagues claimed they supported academic freedom at the same time as arguing that cancelling an academic and denouncing people as transphobic for holding gender critical beliefs were legitimate, indeed, necessary actions within a university.
I also know only too well that working in a university where it is repeatedly stated that your beliefs are transphobic or anti-trans does limit academic freedom and is degrading. It makes someone, even someone with years of experience like me, worried and fearful about speaking freely at work.
Why is winning this legal case so important?
Winning this case is very important because it will show that universities have a responsibility to protect staff with gender critical beliefs from harassment. It will (hopefully) mean that going forward, not sharing the beliefs of some (or even many) of your colleagues on the issues of sex and gender does not mean that you must endure name-calling and other hostilities or that this type of conduct falls within academic freedom: it doesn’t. If we win, it will show that many of the tactics used to silence GC academics are unlawful.
Winning this case will also get justice for me: an academic, a lesbian who was hounded out of a university I loved, doing a job I was very good at.
The legal team who will help us win are:
Ben Cooper KC
What questions will the Tribunal consider?
On 2 October 2023, the case will be tried in Watford Employment Tribunal. I am claiming harassment, discrimination, victimisation, and constructive dismissal. The Open University are claiming that my interpretation of what happened to me is incorrect and that some of the things I said happened, did not. The tribunal will hear evidence and decide whether The Open University has acted unlawfully. I will be cross-examined for 2 days and The Open University has said it will call up to 18 witnesses.
Broadly the questions the Tribunal will consider are:
Harassment Relating to Belief
Did The Open University or employees of the OU:
Call me a racist uncle; act in a discriminatory way in departmental meetings; tell me not to speak about my research, my treatment by the University of Essex or accusations that I am transphobic; compare me to a discredited criminologist; withhold work opportunities; sign or publish various online letters, tweets, retweets or issue a variety of statements about the OUGCRN or published by LSE Gender Studies Department? Did OU employees and moderators fail to remove harassing material from OU staff forums? Did the OU fail to produce an outcome or date for the outcome of my grievance? And if all these things took place, were their actions related to my GC beliefs? Did they violate my dignity? Did they create a hostile environment? Was it connected to my employment relationship?
If those things did happen, did I receive less favourable treatment than people who do not hold GC views?
Indirect Sex Discrimination
Did The OU treat my complaint less seriously than they would treat other complaints of harassment and because more women than men are likely to hold GC beliefs, does this amount to indirect discrimination of women.
Was suspending the grievance once I resigned a form of victimisation and did I suffer as a result?
If found, was the treatment I received a form of constructive dismissal?
What can you do to help?
My original estimate of the total cost of this case was based on a 10-day hearing. We already know it will be 15 days minimum, with more to hear the losses if I win. Right now, we are deep in the process of disclosure (the part of the case when both sides must list and exchange all the documents they have that are relevant to the case).
For their work, CrowdJustice takes a commission and there is also VAT to cover. The financial cost of taking these cases – particularly ones that set a line in the sand – is enormous. Frankly, good legal teams are expensive and the amount of work that needs to be done is huge.
It is in this context – a top-notch legal team, an extended time, and previous cases by which we can measure likely cost – that I have decided to increase my target to £180,000. This case is very important to the future of our universities. My legal team has already processed several thousand pages of evidence and will need to agree the bundle before December 2022. I get legal bills once a month.
3862 of you have already made 4572 pledges (the average of which was £27). If 4000 people give £15 each (which I appreciate will be too much for many people at the moment) we will raise the additional £58,000 I think I am going to need. So far, your generosity has meant that the bills are paid as they come in. We are on the countdown. Only 43 weeks and 11 more bills to come before I sit in Watford Employment Tribunal and face my harassers and former employer.
Academics need to be able to discuss where sex might matter more than gender identity. Will you support me (once again) by pledging £15.00 so that we can establish this in case law?
Prof Jo Phoenix
Oct. 16, 2022
Exactly 1 Year On
Dear Friends, Supporters and Contributors
It's a year ago today I launched this crowdjustice fund to support my case against The Open University. What a year! You helped me obtain the funds to go forward in record time. My story at The Open University ended in December 2021 when I was forced to resign because they made my job untenable after failing to deal with my complaint about bullying and harassment for 6 months and failing to provide me with any sense of when I might be expected to hear the result.
Then, I secured a job at Reading University and yesterday I attended the open day to recruit students to Reading's first B.Sc. (hons) Criminology.
There have been successes as well this year - Maya Forstater won her case of discrimination against her for her gender critical beliefs. Allison Bailey won her's against her chambers. In the course of that case, the employment tribunal judges accepted that at times, some transgender rights activists' approach and language have been hostile to lesbians (especially the campaign about cotton ceilings). We have also seen the case Mermaids brought against LGB Alliance - the outcome of which has not yet been heard. This means that case law is slowly building up in a way that defends people with gender critical beliefs from degrading and hostile, discriminatory treatment.
My case will, hopefully, establish once and for the line between academic debate and harassment.
The date for the employment tribunal is 2nd October 2023. Although I have not provided an update since June, I have been hard at work. This month is the deadline for disclosures. To that end, I have handed over (literally) hundreds of pages of evidence that go back several years. Bundles will not be exchanged until the end of the month and at that time I will see the OU's evidence.
Once I've got a sense of the complete bundle of evidence, I will update you further.
For now, this note is by way of saying thank you for your continued support. The case is moving along well. The evidence is looking strong. It's been a tough year and there is another tough year ahead. Thank you for your help.
Prof Jo Phoenix
July 22, 2022
15 days face to face in Watford Employment Tribunal in October 2023
On June 13th, I virtually attended my ‘case management preliminary hearing’. These are administrative hearings overseen by an Employment Judge where all parties deal with the issues that need clarifying, agree a schedule for all the various processes that happen prior to the actual hearing and agree a date for the hearing. In cases involving discrimination, it is not atypical for employers to ask for a preliminary hearing to establish whether the protected status that the claimant is claiming (in my case protected belief) falls within the Equality Act 2010. Fortunately, The Open University have agreed that my beliefs are covered so there is no need for such a preliminary hearing.
My case will be a face to face hearing that starts on 2nd October 2023 in Watford Employment Tribunal. The Judge reminded everyone present that Employment Tribunals are public hearings which means members of the public can attend. Once I find out a little more about this and we get closer to the date, I will provide an update that includes instructions on how to attend if you are interested in watching the proceedings.
The less good news. What I thought (and budgeted for) would be a total of 10 days of hearing is now scheduled for 15 days, largely because The Open University are calling 18 witnesses.
The present schedule is that I am likely to be on the stand for 2 days. The Open University will be presenting their 18 witnesses across 7 days of hearing.
We are a long way out, the schedule can change and the final ‘cast list’ can change too.
The last few weeks has had me thinking about access to justice. As far as I understand it, employment tribunals were designed to be a way of providing employees access to justice for unfair treatment by being a low cost court. Yet, for me, all I see is that The Open University has a total income of £561.5M and an adjusted operating surplus of £52.1 million. Deep pockets. It got me thinking about whether and to what extent huge organisations like these – perhaps even The Open University – consciously deploy a strategy of economic intimidation against claimants. As I see it, the cost of this legal battle is small fry in the grand scheme of The Open University’s budget but for me the prospects that the tribunal is going to cost even more because it is now 15 days is worrying.
Without your donations, I would not have been able to bring this case. Without your donations, we wouldn’t be able to establish in law where the line between harassment and discrimination and academic freedom is. There is still time, but I am asking once again for donations. It makes sense to me that The Open University and their lawyers might be watching this crowdjustice fund. It would make sense to me that their lawyers may well be making calculations based on their assessment of how much this case will cost me and what stomach they think I will have to take the risk that the support is not there. Please help me show them (just in case they were thinking about it) that economic intimidation is not a strategy that is going to work in this case.
Prof Jo Phoenix
Feb. 9, 2022
NEWSFLASH - THE BEST LEGAL TEAM IN THE BUSINESS
Two months ago I resigned from the Open University citing constructive dismissal. Five weeks ago I started a new job at the University of Reading. It’s been such a hectic time, but it’s important that I share some news with you.
Your generous support has meant that the Crowd Justice fund now stands in at in excess of £100,00. This means that Ben Cooper QC and Naomi Cunningham will be representing me. Ben Cooper represented Maya Forstater in the Employment Appeals Tribunal and helped to secure the ruling that ‘gender critical’ beliefs are ‘worthy of respect in a democratic society’. Because of that ruling gender critical beliefs now fall under the protection of the Equality Act 2010. Naomi Cunningham is a member of the amazing team that helps produce Legal Feminist. She gave evidence to the Women and Equalities Select Committee on reform of the Gender Recognition Act in February 2021, and was instructed in Fair Play For Women’s judicial review of Office for National Statistics guidance on the sex question in the 2021 Census. She has nearly 30 years’ experience of employment and discrimination law and currently sits on the board for Sex Matters. My solicitor, Annie Powell, is on maternity leave but Elizabeth George (from Leigh Day) has stepped into her shoes. It is impossible for me to convey the sense of trust and confidence I have in my legal team.
I still find it incredibly difficult to take on board everything that happened at the OU, even two months on. Shortly after I resigned the University wrote and told me that they had suspended the investigation into my grievance of harassment and bullying pending outcome of the employment tribunal, the tribunal that Ben Cooper and Naomi Cunningham will be representing me at. From what I understand, this is not normal practice. It is usual for grievance investigations to carry on and be concluded regardless of any case lodged in the employment tribunal.
Before starting my new job I returned to my old office at the Open University to clear my desk and pick up all my many books. It was a cold day and one I was not looking forward to. As it happened no one was on campus. I was relieved because I felt sick at the thought of coming face to face with of my harassers. After all, it is one thing lodging a claim in the employment tribunal. It is an altogether different thing seeing the people that broke your heart, tried to wreck your professional career and severely damaged your mental health and wellbeing. People tell me I am brave. I don’t feel it because facing these people on that day was something I just did not feel I could manage.
I used the lift to ferry my books to my car. In the lift was a sign stating that the University does not tolerate bullying or harassment. Closed in that lift, with my memories of everything that had happened left me feeling angry because the bullying and harassment of me had been allowed to continue unchecked. On the upper floors the lift doors open to a view of the legacy garden, a formal garden where alumni and supporters of the OU are remembered with plaques or flowers or plants. When I arrived at the OU as Chair of Criminology in 2016 I was blown away by the garden because it was a living embodiment of the trust, respect and affection that the OU commanded. I felt so proud. But, on my last day there, that pride turned into bitter, aching sad disappointment. To me, the actions and inactions of current academic employees and managers at the OU have betrayed what the OU ought to have stood for – being a place that exists for the benefit of all.
The contrast between my final days at the OU and my arrival at the University of Reading could not be greater. At University of Reading there were welcome drinks with colleagues and staff; Security, HR and Media have rolled out the red carpet to make sure I feel supported and enabled to do my job. This has underscored a very simple fact. It is the decisions and actions of managers and colleagues in universities that ultimately protect us from harassment and defend academic freedom. My hope is that my employment tribunal will provide case law to force managers to manage the way that particular groups in are using harassment to shut down academic discussion.
Best of all, I am writing again. I am writing about why sex matters in criminology. Finally. After two years, I finally feel able to offer a university my skills and produce the work that I have been paid to produce.
As we stand today, my outline case – updated to include constructive dismissal – is lodged with the Employment Tribunal. We are awaiting the outline defence and (fingers crossed) we will shortly have a case management conference and will know the date for the full hearing.
Until then, please do continue to support my case. To the best of my knowledge, the estimate of the total cost being around £150K is about right. With your help we can get this over the line. With my legal team we have, quite literally, the *best* possible chance of winning. And, the win is such an important one: it will force universities to protect academics like me.
Prof Jo Phoenix
Dec. 11, 2021
Adding Constructive Dismissal To My Claim against OU
Last week I announced, with the heaviest of hearts, that I resigned my post, with immediate effect as Chair in Criminology at The Open University. On December 2nd, 2021, I ended my 25 year long relationship with that institution. I also announced my pleasure at taking up a new post as Professor of Criminology at Reading University from January 1, 2022.
I am now adding constructive dismissal to my claim against The Open University.
The failure to take seriously my grievance
On 24th June 2021 I submitted a grievance detailing the bullying and harassment campaign that forms some of my claim against the OU. As you know, I was labelled me a transphobe because of my gender critical beliefs, called a racist uncle at the dinner table and colleagues published several open statements and letters asking my employer to discriminate against me.
You will also know that the harassment campaign took a serious toll on my mental health, my reputation, and my ability to work since I was being shunned and vilified by my colleagues.
Because of this I asked the university time and again to expedite the grievance - I needed an outcome if I was to have any chance of returning to my full duties. Despite my pleading I was told on the 12 November 2021, nearly 6 months after submitting my grievance, that I might get an outcome before Christmas, but then again I might not. Finding out that there was no scheduled date for the outcome of my grievance felt like the ultimate betrayal by the university I loved. Once my initial shock and grief subsided, I knew that my trust and faith in The Open University was misplaced. Asking me to wait for more than six months to resolve a very serious grievance is an utterly unreasonable demand. Since I resigned, I was informed that The Open University has suspended the grievance investigation and will not provide an outcome until after the Tribunal, despite best practice guides. But there is more.
My Employer’s Public Statements
In the last 6 months, The Open University has also issued several statements of its own - placed on internal SharePoint pages, shared externally on social media by my harassers, and more recently on an external facing news page - that make its position clear. In the first statement the OU distances itself from the research network (and thereby me and other members) stating it is a “very sensitive topic” and offers support for trans and non-binary community, ending with a comment that the network is not institutionally endorsed.
In the second statement the vice chancellor states that the network (thereby me) has caused “hurt and distress”. To suggest that the academic work I do causes distress and harm whilst failing to acknowledge the distress and reputation damage done to me by more than 360 OU employees highlights the shockingly unequal treatment afforded me by my employer.
A third statement was published on the OU news page on 10th November. It stated that “The Vice-Chancellor's Executive found that the formation of the GCRN was compatible with academic freedom, while also acknowledging that some staff found the content of the group's work to be challenging or concerning”. The implication is clear. It is the GCRN (and by definition the network’s members including me) that are the problem. It felt like a gut punch.
At no point had The Open University acknowledged in these statements its legal obligations under the Equality Act 2010 to protect gender critical academics from harassment. At no point has it acknowledged the hurt or distress caused to me. These absences are not a mistake. They are the result of an active choice. Clearly my distress is not worth mentioning - even though it is out in the public domain and so they would not be breaching any confidentiality to acknowledge it. When my employer broadcast its shockingly unequal treatment of my distress on an external news page, my trust in them shattered.
So far, through the exceptional generosity of all of you, there is now a fighting fund of just over £90,000. This sounds like a massive amount, but the OU has deep pockets and £90,000 will be swallowed up very quickly if I am to get the best representation. But I know that this case will help to establish a line in the sand and make it clear that baseless accusations of transphobia simply for standing up for the rights of women is harassment especially when made in an academic context. For that reason, I am bringing together one of the most exciting legal teams to fight this case which means a reluctant change in the Crowd Justice target to £150,000. This is a HUGE ask. So many have already given so much. And it is Christmas. If you cannot give now, please make a note to give in January or February when finances are a little easier. I have a long way to go and a hard legal battle to fight. Any and all help and support you can offer will go to ease my burden.
Prof Jo Phoenix
Nov. 30, 2021
Not strictly related to my case against the OU
Friends, colleagues and supports
Forgive this intrusion. This is not an update on my case.
Some of you will already know about my experiences of being unlawfully cancelled and blacklisted by the University of Essex because some staff and some students claimed that I was transphobic. A month afterwards, Prof Rosa Freedman (University of Reading) was also unlawfully treated.
There is a documentary being screened on Channel 4 this Thursday (2nd December) at 10:00 pm. It is called 'Cancelled'. It focuses, at least in part, on what happened to the two of us.
We both took part in the filming. The presenter is Richard Bacon and the Director is Tom Jenner.
I have not seen the documentary, but I think the director understood many of the issues. Fingers crossed anyway!
Thank you once again for your support. I will be putting together a proper update on the case some time next week.
Prof Jo Phoenix
Nov. 3, 2021
Friends, Supporters, Colleagues
Yesterday was a milestone. You managed to raise more than £80K in only 17 days. Seventeen days. Four hundred and 8 hours. That is £196.08 per hour. This is what you all did, and you did it to support me bringing my employer to an employment tribunal.
Last evening, I was obsessively refreshing my various social media feeds. I could feel the joy of everyone in the comments and the retweets, in the likes and shares.
What an amazing thing you have done.
I mean this without any false modesty: I am humbled and touched beyond measure. I will do my very best to honour your donations, your support, and your hopes.
In the days before deciding to go to tribunal, I had to work out the minimum amount I needed to raise so that I could take the case all the way to Tribunal. That amount was £80,000. When I discussed this with my partner (the amazing Pj), she told me she would support my decision whatever I chose but she believed that we ought to go for it. She has, after all, been the one at home listening to my frustrations and anger and my deep pain. She was also the one who picked me up during the summer when I was struggling with PTSD and couldn’t sleep or concentrate.
Few people will realise what a decision like that means: we decided to gamble our house. If the crowdjustice fund raiser didn’t provide enough money, or didn’t provide any, we knew we would have to mortgage our house and risk our financial future. This is how committed we are to fighting this battle.
Your support and your donations – from the £1 and £2 donations (and I know how much that can be) to those who have given astonishing sums – mean my partner and I can rest assured knowing that we can take this case all the way to the final hearing without jeopardising our house.
I will be chatting with my lawyer over the next few days. We will be submitting the claim to the Employment Tribunal this week. We will also discuss whether another stretch target is needed.
My hope: to get, quite literally, the best legal team in the country. My aim is to do everything in my power to make sure that your generosity is honoured and that we win.
For now, my partner and I thank you. What an amazing thing you have all done.
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