Challenging Bullying and Discrimination at the Open University

by Pilgrim Tucker

Challenging Bullying and Discrimination at the Open University

by Pilgrim Tucker
Pilgrim Tucker
Case Owner
I'm a PhD student, studying the history of housing in North Kensington, who's been bullied, harrassed and victimised at the Open University for my disabilities and gender critical views.
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Pilgrim Tucker
Case Owner
I'm a PhD student, studying the history of housing in North Kensington, who's been bullied, harrassed and victimised at the Open University for my disabilities and gender critical views.
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Latest: June 1, 2024

Case update and appeal: What's going on at the OU?

After the Phoenix tribunal, and subsequent announcement of an independent review at the Open University (OU), can we really hope for change? Or is the OU response little more than lip service? And wh…

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My name is Pilgrim Tucker. I am taking legal action against the Open University for discrimination on the basis of my disabilities, bullying associated with my gender critical beliefs, harassment, victimisation, and breach of contract*, which has made it impossible for me to continue my PhD research at the OU. I need your support.

My Story

In 2017, I was invited to study for a PhD at the Open University by OU academic staff Professor A and Dr B following my campaigning work with residents of Grenfell Tower and the wider Lancaster West Estate before and after the 2017 fire.

I began my PhD at the OU in October 2018, researching the history of housing in North Kensington prior to the Grenfell Tower fire.

However, Dr C, the OU historian who had committed to providing input on the research project, was a leading transgender advocate within the university. He blocked me on social media, and then withdrew from working on my project. Although I was promised his expertise would be replaced, no history supervision input was provided.

From the time I started attempting to secure history supervision provision OU staff began to construct a false narrative about my application, claiming I had never been promised history supervision input on my PhD, and that I was being unreasonable in expecting the university to provide it.

Subsequently, other administrative and pastoral aspects of my PhD provision began to go very wrong, and I started to become increasingly stressed and anxious, and requested reasonable adjustments to accommodate my increasing mental health and menopause symptoms.

However rather than acknowledge and rectify any service provision failures, or put in place any adjustments to support my studies, the university attempted to conceal they had promised me history supervision and started to claim, falsely, that I had been rude to staff members, stating that the reason I had received a poor standard of provision at the university was due to illness and purported ‘problematic behavioural traits’ on my part.

The following are some of the claims which have been put to the OU in a pre-action letter, which they have not responded to:

Informing me, wrongly, that I had no entitlement to sick pay or sick leave during periods of ill health, although ESRC funding rules obliged the OU to provide it, and instead advising me to take unpaid leave and claim state benefits while unwell.

Failure to provide counselling support during the period I was undertaking interviews with victims of the Grenfell Tower fire, despite this being specified as a necessary ethical requirement on my research ethics application and OU staff promising me counselling would be provided.

Being incorrectly advised by the head of faculty and other OU staff responsible for my PhD that the only way to change supervision arrangements was by making a formal complaint.

Failing to provide any reasonable adjustments for my disabilities.

Wrongly informing OU staff that I was dyslexic.

Failing to reimburse expenses claims amounting to hundreds of pounds for almost 2 years.

Removing funding for book purchases and falsely claiming I had not had book purchase funding provided from the time I started my PhD.

Failure to apply the university’s covid tracked extension system to my PhD to cover time lost due to covid lockdowns.

Failing to provide accurate or reliable information about thesis submission deadlines, study break allowance, and extensions, and providing constantly changing and inaccurate information regarding this.

Insisting I accept a trans rights activist academic in a pastoral support role.

Seeking to take punitive action against me, based on false and unsubstantiated allegations about my conduct, following the submission of my complaint about the standard of service provided to me by the university.

Although following my complaint the Open University accepted that I had been wrongly advised by senior OU staff members, and that I had experienced shortfalls in administrative provision, they minimised these, denying the majority of their failings. They have made no apology, and offered no remedy or compensation.

The next step is for my barrister to draft particulars of the case in preparation for a legal hearing.

I am currently seeking to raise £11,000, in two stages, this is made up of £5230 in solicitors fees and £5670 – the cost of Barrister Alice De Coverley drafting the particulars of the case.

Thank you for any contribution you can make.

*My breach of contract claim encompasses the university’s failure to act in accordance with its own policies and procedures, and a breach of its duty to perform the service with reasonable care and skill. My contractual claim raises the same issues as a negligence claim and includes bullying associated with my gender critical beliefs.

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Update 5

Pilgrim Tucker

June 1, 2024

Case update and appeal: What's going on at the OU?

After the Phoenix tribunal, and subsequent announcement of an independent review at the Open University (OU), can we really hope for change? Or is the OU response little more than lip service? And what might this mean for students going forward? 

The Open University’s Independent Review 

The day after the damning judgement against the OU in Professor Jo Phoenix’s employment tribunal was handed down, (Jan 2024), the OU issued a petulant statement announcing that it was “disappointed by the judgement” and would “need time to consider it in detail, including our right to appeal”.

Judge Young strongly condemned the OU’s failure to intervene in the ‘creation of an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment’ constructed by many of their witnesses. The judge also found the evidence of many OU witnesses to be "not credible"

Jo Phoenix and I were in the same department, and she acted in an advisory role to me. She was my ‘third party monitor’ until constructively unfairly dismissed, and many of the names and faces involved in her case also appear in mine.

Three days after their first statement on the tribunal judgement, the OU announced that it planned to hold “a major independent review of our internal working environment” and would be “addressing the challenge… of balancing complexities of upholding academic freedom, freedom of speech, and equality and employment rights”.

Any optimism that lessons were being learned was short-lived, however. On 7th May 2024, the OU announced the appointed external legal advisor of those appointed toundertake the review was none other than Smita Jamdar. In extensive social media posts on the subject, Jamdar describes herself as in “despair” regarding sex realist beliefs, and “astonished at just how little I can relate to GC thinking”. She has also published articles arguing that no-platforming isa legitimate expression of free speech, and has describedconcerns surrounding free speech in universities as “flimsy”and a “moral panic”.

Within 24 hours the OU had amended the announcement on its website to remove mention of Ms Jamdar, but it remains a mystery as to why anyone involved considered her suitable for the role in the first place. Only time will tell if others selected will possess the objectivity necessary to produce a balanced review.

Why a student case matters 

The stream of employment tribunal wins bodes well for the future acceptance of sex realist views. However, PhD students are not protected by employment law, nor are they able to draw on the resources of trade unions for advice or representation. This leaves student voices unheard, and the impact on students of discrimination against sex realism within universities goes both unrecognised and unrecorded. 

In place of employment law students may use contract law to bring a case, although it’s still relatively new for students to sue universities. In some ways this makes the process more difficult, but it’s important that universities are made to recognise they have an obligation to students as well as to staff members. The chilling effect of transactivism on students within institutions does not just affect the individuals targeted;the explicit bullying of one individual has the intended effect of inhibiting the thought, speech, and actions of the much wider group.

Punishment of students with sex realist approaches, and bullying and attempts to remove students who complain of staff/institutional misconduct, must be addressed if universities are to re-establish themselves as places where students can learn and undertake research without fear or intimidation. This is not just important for academia; it influences wider intellectual thought and affects every aspect of society.

I have contacted the OU to ask whether documentation relating to my case will be considered as part of the review but have not yet received any response. 

That’s why I need to ask again for your help in raising funds to hold the Open University to account. Please contribute if possible, and/or publicise my case to others. And thank you for your support so far.

Update 4

Pilgrim Tucker

April 20, 2024

Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundum!

Delays in the court system have meant that the higher education ombudsman, the Office of the Independent Adjudicator (OIA) has rejected my request that they investigate my complaint about the Open University (OU). This makes holding the OU to account in the court even more crucial.

My case is vitally important: I am the only student pursuing a case in this area, and my crucially important research on Grenfell cannot be allowed to be scuppered.

In their most recent correspondence, the Open University’s solicitor admitted, in writing, that the university had put me under investigation after I submitted my complaint. The university never told me I was under investigation, nor what allegations had been made about me, nor who had made them. This is obviously against OU procedures, and any semblance of a fair or transparent process.

OIA investigations focus largely on the university’s complaint process, and so following the OU’s admission the OIA would have been expected to find in my favour in this respect.

However OIA rules state they can’t look at a case which is currently the subject of legal action, and will only consider such a case where the court has issued a stay in the legal proceedings. We applied for a stay of one year in February 2023, but delays in the court system meant it was not granted until November 2023, and we were only issued with the paperwork confirming it had been granted three weeks ago, in April 2024.  We had already applied for an extension to that stay, to continue after February 2024, but again delays in the court system mean that we have not been able to get confirmation from the court that the extension has been granted.

As the OU has now explicitly admitted that they have, by investigating me after I submitted my complaint, deviated significantly from any just or transparent process, the decision of the OIA to not investigate my complaint is extremely disappointing.

It also makes it even more important that the OU is held to account in the court system.

Such delays and obstructions cost money in legal fees, and consume a great deal of time. It is tough and tiring, but I remain undeterred. Please help by donating, and/or sharing the word. Please share the crowdfunder, and explain to others why they should support my case.

Nolite Te Bastardes Carborundum!

Thank you for your support.

Update 3

Pilgrim Tucker

Jan. 24, 2024

Your help needed once again

Update on Challenging Bullying and Discrimination at the Open University

I have to ask for help once again.

Due to the complexities of my case, the fact that as I am a research student rather than an employee, and my case is based on contract rather than employment law, I have had to take a good deal of extra legal advice in recent weeks. This has incurred extra costs, and I am not yet at the stage of drafting the particulars of the case.

For that reason I need to raise another approximately £7000. 

I hate to ask, as its difficult financially for so many at the moment, but it is so important that the Open University is held to account, and made to recognise that it must conduct itself lawfully towards it’s students as well as its employees.

I am so grateful to you for your support so far, obviously I wouldn’t have been able to do this without your help.

Thank you for any contribution you are able to make.


Update 2

Pilgrim Tucker

Oct. 18, 2023

£13,500 in total to cover costs for this stage

In June when I launched the crowd-funder I was initially seeking to raise £11,000, part for solicitor’s fees and part to cover the cost of Barrister Alice De Coverley drafting the particulars of the case.

Since that time further solicitor’s fees have been incurred, and the total I need to cover the costs for this stage of my case is now £13,500.  I need to raise this by the end of this month.

Thank you very much for your support.

Update 1

Pilgrim Tucker

Oct. 10, 2023

Disciplinary action threatened again


Dear xxxx,

Thank you for your email explaining that the Open University is again planning to take disciplinary action against me unless I remove information from my crowdfunding page.

Unfortunately however I am not currently in a position to respond, as:

  • I have not yet received the letter of response from the Open University’s solicitor, although it is many months since my claims were communicated to the university by my solicitor, and the deadline for your response has now passed.

  • The Open University has still not replied to my request for a review of my data subject access request (DSAR), made over 2 months ago on 07/08/2023, nor to my email chasing this request for review sent on 10/09/2023. As noted in my request the DSAR data issued by the OU neglected to include emails regarding me exchanged between relevant staff, and also contained a number of redactions that required justification as to which exemptions (as set out in the Data Protection Act 2018) were applied. I note your inclusion of 1 of the email threads cited in my request, but that your removal of redactions has not been applied to the 3rd email in the thread, and despite my request for this information I have as yet still not received the explanation for those redactions, nor for any of the other redactions that have been queried. This is particularly concerning given that earlier this year the ICO upheld my complaint regarding the OUs handling of my data after the OU failed to provide DSAR data until 8 months after my DSAR request was made, 5 months after the maximum legally permitted deadline.

It is disappointing that the OU is again threatening disciplinary action against me while concurrently failing to respond to legal requirements and timeframes, as of course these failures on the OU’s part put me at a significant disadvantage in any proceedings. However once I have received the above information from the Open University I will be in a position to respond.

Kind regards

Pilgrim Tucker

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