Chair of SEEN sued for saying 'only women menstruate'

by Elspeth Duemmer Wrigley

Chair of SEEN sued for saying 'only women menstruate'

by Elspeth Duemmer Wrigley
Elspeth Duemmer Wrigley
Case Owner
I am a lawyer working for an arms-length body to a government department (part of the Civil Service) and love my job. I am also gender critical and co-chair of the SEEN network.
on 19th March 2024
pledged of £40,000 stretch target from 1678 pledges
Elspeth Duemmer Wrigley
Case Owner
I am a lawyer working for an arms-length body to a government department (part of the Civil Service) and love my job. I am also gender critical and co-chair of the SEEN network.

Latest: March 25, 2024

Case against me withdrawn! But the fight goes on ...

Dear all, I have an important and exciting update on the case.  

After so many of you generously enabled me to reach my initial crowdfunded target of £40k, the claimant has now formally wit…

Read more

Who are you?

I'm Elspeth Duemmer Wrigley.  I work for an arms-length body to a government department (part of the Civil Service) and love my job.   I'm also gender critical, and chair of a governmental department SEEN  (Sex Equality and Equity Network).  SEEN represents those who are gender critical in our workplace. 

What can you tell us?

The way I describe the case is restrained by my situation.  I am writing this in a personal capacity, but am still employed and must comply with my employer's code of conduct and the Nolan Principles of Public Life.  This places certain restrictions on me. 

I’ve given as much information as I can, but I hope that what I set out below is sufficient to understand what’s going on.  

So what happened?

I work for an arms-length body to the main government department.  The case has been brought by a claimant who is an employee of another arms-length body.  The claimant is taking their own employer, the government department and me to court.

Among other matters, the claimant is suing the government department for allowing our departmental SEEN network to exist (on the basis that the existence of the network has the effect of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating and/or offensive environment for the claimant). 

What is the SEEN network?

SEEN (the Sex Equality and Equity Network) is an official cross-governmental staff network.  We also have networks in three government departments (including the one being taken to court).    

SEEN is known as the gender critical network and is the only civil service network that clearly treats sex and sexual orientation as concepts defined in the Equality Act, which should never be conflated with or replaced by ‘gender identity’.   More details can be found here: 

It’s also important to note that the SEEN network is among the first gender critical staff networks in any organisation.  Since our inception other gender critical networks (independent of SEEN) have emerged to support employees in the City (SEEN in the City) in the police (Police SEEN UK) in Parliament (SEEN in Parliament) in HR (SEENinHR) and in STEM (SEEN in STEM) with more likely to follow.

Why are you being sued?

I am being sued for comments and posts made in the workplace, including:

  • A statement made during a seminar on 'Women and Autism' in which I stated that ‘only women menstruate’.  

  • A post listing the 9 protected characteristics from the Equality Act, which highlighted that gender expression, gender identity and gender were not listed as protected characteristics.  This followed errors in staff training where some or all of these were included

  • A link shared to a well known children’s book, “My Body is Me” by Rachel Rooney 

  • A link shared to a SEEN website published interview with detransitioner and fellow civil servant Ritchie Herron 

  • A link shared to a SEEN website piece written by a young lesbian colleague discussing her Jamaican heritage and experience of being a lesbian in the civil service.

  • In addition, I am being sued for a statement made in July 2022 on an internal work forum in which I explained why I was gender critical (below)

“This is a personal post about being ‘gender critical’: a shout out, a welcome and a reach across the barricades.

Diversity of belief makes our organisation stronger and our lives more interesting.  Inclusivity makes us feel welcome and able to be our authentic selves.  Those who are lesbian, gay, transgender, disabled, BAME, neurodiverse, from different social backgrounds and religions, and those with other experiences all enrich our organisation.

There are many protected beliefs in our organisation, some religious (such as Christitianity) and some philosophical (such as veganism).  Some people believe that we all have a gender (sometimes ‘gender identity’) separate from our biological sex; that sex is a spectrum, and that biological sex is an idea that first emerged with white European colonisation.  Such beliefs are protected by law.

Other people, such as myself, hold that sex is binary (male and female), fundamentally biological and an important category to recognise in language, laws, sport and [the] workplace.  These beliefs, sometimes called ‘gender critical’ are also protected by law. 

A number of organisations and charities cater specifically for those with protected beliefs around gender identity (for example, Mermaids, Stonewall and Gires).  Writers and activists with these beliefs are posted on Yammer.  However, despite occasionally taking positions some may consider controversial, the exploration of different views is to be welcomed.  We are an organisation with many different perspectives, after all.

For those interested in learning more about what it means to be ‘gender critical’ there are also a range of charities and organisations that speak for those of us with this protected belief.  These include Sex Matters, LGB Alliance and Transgender Trend.  I’d also be happy to talk directly with anyone interested, especially to dispel some of the myths that this is a position rooted in ignorance, bigotry or hate, or that those such as myself have any ill-will towards those in other communities.  

I am sure there is more common ground than difference in this sometimes heated debate.”

Can you really be sued for saying things like this?

It appears you can.  But I do not accept that these or any of the other posts, comments or actions were offensive or discriminatory in relation to gender reassignment, nor that they created an unsafe place of work for employees with that protected characteristic (as the claim indicates).  

My position is that the SEEN network and all my actions described above are protected as rights to freedom of belief and expression under Articles 9 and 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights.   

In fact, I consider the whole claim to be premised on an assumption that “gender-critical” beliefs are inherently discriminatory, and expression or manifestation of such beliefs may therefore lawfully be suppressed.  I consider the claim takes no account of the effect of the judgment of the Employment Appeal Tribunal in Forstater v CGD, nor my Article 9 and 10 rights, nor those of other employees.

Given the nature of the claim brought against the government department, I also believe that I have been targeted because of my close and visible involvement with SEEN.    

What are the other parties doing then?  

This is not something I am able to comment on at present, unfortunately.

Why does this matter to us?

If the claim succeeds, it’s likely that any gender critical statements (even ones as reasonable as the above) are likely to be difficult if not impossible to make within the Civil Service and its related bodies.

The remedies the claimant is seeking (if implemented) would effectively preclude any public gender critical discourse in the workplace.  The claimant is seeking financial compensation from me and the department, demanding a disbanding of the departmental SEEN network and, potentially, the cross-governmental SEEN network as well.  In addition, the claimant seeks disciplinary action to be instigated against both myself and others. The claimant is also seeking an unequivocal written apology.

If this claim were to succeed then it would end the exponential growth of our network, which now has over 700 members in fifty government departments and three official departmental SEENs.  It would also have a profound chilling effect on our members and other gender critical employees across the Civil Service.

Perhaps even more importantly, I believe it would have a profound chilling effect on employees elsewhere who do not subscribe to a belief in gender identity, whether or not they consider themselves gender critical.  I believe it could adversely affect the setting up of similar staff networks in other sectors such as education and the health service and risk the existence of similar networks that have recently appeared to balance the networks that support staff with a belief in gender identity.

So, what are you trying to achieve?

The case goes to the heart of whether and to what extent lawful freedom of speech generally and gender critical views specifically can be expressed in the Civil Service and its supporting bodies.

The claim has been brought at a time when employees with gender critical beliefs in many organisations, both in the Civil Service and beyond, are already facing vexatious, chilling, or bullying attacks.  I believe that if this case succeeds, these attacks are likely to escalate.  I believe if this case succeeds there will be no place in the Civil Service for those with sex realist view.  Other organisations may follow suit.

I support a Civil Service which defends plurality, diversity and the inclusion of all. I have always supported this goal and will continue to do so.  And although we may disagree profoundly on matters important to us, I will continue to work towards finding common ground with my colleagues, as I have previously advocated:

What is the next step in the case?

I have submitted an ET3 Response, and the next step will be the Preliminary Hearing on the 25th of March 2024.  I am hoping that either on or before this date the case against me personally with be withdrawn.  However I still need financial help to help fund my legal costs to fight the case against me and defend our network and its right to exist within the Civil Service and its departments.

How much are you raising? 

I have instructed Jon Heath of Levins Solicitors and Anya Palmer from Old Square Chambers, to ensure this case is properly defended. My initial target is £3,000, based on the estimated cost of ending the claim against me in my personal capacity and obtaining permission to participate in the proceedings as an interested party.

The stakes are extremely high in this case.  I hope that I will soon be removed from the action.  However, if the claimant were to succeed in the claim brought against the government department in full, then this could see an end not only to our departmental SEEN, but also the cross-governmental SEEN network as well (and beyond).  It may also significantly restrict the manner in which Civil Servants could express sex realist views of any kind in the workplace.    

For this reason, if I am successful in having the claim against me as an individual dropped then I will be seeking to remain involved in the claim as an interested party to ensure that my protected beliefs are not unlawfully curtailed, and to help ensure a tolerant and impartial workplace in which no one expressing gender critical views is bullied and harassed, or subject to a hostile working environment.     

What will happen to any money left over?

At the end of the action, if there are any funds remaining, these will be shared with any ongoing gender critical litigation in the public sector.

What now?

If you agree with my aims, please consider donating to support me and share with anyone who may also wish to support.

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Update 2

Elspeth Duemmer Wrigley

March 25, 2024

Case against me withdrawn! But the fight goes on ...

Dear all, I have an important and exciting update on the case.  

After so many of you generously enabled me to reach my initial crowdfunded target of £40k, the claimant has now formally withdrawn the claim against me.

It has always been my position  that this claim was vexatious and without merit.  It is disappointing that it took almost four months after the original claim was lodged and mere days before the first hearing before it was formally withdrawn.  But I am obviously relieved this has happened.

However, this does not end things.   The claimant is still seeking remedies which would directly impact me, those who are gender critical within the Civil Service, and the SEEN network.  For this reason I am seeking to remain on the action as an Interested Party, to ensure that none of these remedies are implemented.

We had hoped that this would be considered in a hearing today.  However, due to lack of judicial time this hearing has been delayed.  Once we know when it will be rescheduled I will provide a further update here.  

I am incredibly grateful for the generosity of everyone who donated to my crowdfunder without which I would not be able to continue. 

I have been overwhelmed by the swell of support for my case and touched by the kindness of all your messages.  

Thank you all.

Update 1

Elspeth Duemmer Wrigley

March 21, 2024

£40K in 48 hours - you are incredible - thank you

Dear All, thank you so much for your incredible support.  I have been so moved by your generosity and kind words. 

I never expected to reach the target so soon, or to see such a groundswell of solidarity. 

Your amazing support has put me in a place where I now have sufficient funds to take the matter to the next stage. That is breathtaking.

Given the inherent uncertainty of the process I don’t want to ask for any more until it’s clear it is needed.  As such I’m going to pause the crowdfunder shortly until we know more. 

Thank you all.  I cannot express to you my gratitude for making it possible to defend myself, but also in letting me know I don’t stand alone. 


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