Ex-school worker claims she was 'sacked over her Christian beliefs'

Christian school worker dismissed for gross misconduct over Facebook posts criticising LGBT relationships launches appeal claiming she was ‘sacked because of her religious beliefs’

  • Kristie Higgs, 46, claims she was sacked because of her religious beliefs
  • Farmor’s School says she was dismissed for gross misconduct over online posts

A Christian school worker who claims she was sacked because of her religious beliefs began a legal appeal yesterday that saw a second lay panel member recused.

Kristie Higgs, 46, was dismissed for gross misconduct by Farmor’s School in Fairford, Gloucestershire, in 2019 after sharing Facebook posts criticising plans to teach primary school children about LGBT relationships and gender identity issues.

The mother-of-two accused the school of discrimination and harassment but lost her case at employment tribunal, and is now appealing against that tribunal’s decision.

The school had denied dismissing Mrs Higgs because of her religious beliefs and said she was sacked because of the language used in the posts. 

Kristie Higgs, 46, (pictured outside the Civil Justice Centre in Bristol in 2020) was dismissed for gross misconduct after sharing Facebook posts which criticised plans to teach primary school children about same-sex relationships and gender identity issues

Mrs Higgs, from Fairford, shared and commented on posts which raised concerns about relationship education at her son’s Church of England primary school.

Students were to learn about the No Outsiders In Our School programme, which is a series of books teaching the Equality Act in primary schools.

Mrs Higgs, who was posting on Facebook under her maiden name, shared two posts in October 2018 to around 100 friends. At the time she worked as an administrator at Farmor’s School.

One of the posts referred to ‘brainwashing our children’ and added: ‘Children will be taught that all relationships are equally valid and ‘normal’, so that same sex marriage is exactly the same as traditional marriage, and gender is a matter of choice, not biology, so that it’s up to them what sex they are.

‘We say again this is a vicious form of totalitarianism aimed at suppressing Christianity and removing it from the public arena.’

An anonymous complaint about the posts was made to the school. Mrs Higgs She was suspended and then dismissed in 2019 after a disciplinary hearing.

The mother, supported by the Christian Legal Centre, took the school to an employment tribunal, arguing she had been unlawfully discriminated against because of her religious beliefs.

The school told the tribunal that Mrs Higgs was sacked because she had broken its code of conduct, not because of her religious beliefs.

Furthermore, it argued that her Facebook posts prompted a complaint that the school were homophobic and transphobic, and could have affected it’s reputation. 

In its ruling in 2020, the tribunal concluded her religion is a ‘protected characteristic’ as defined by the Equality Act but the school lawfully dismissed her.

Mrs Higgs has appealed that judgment to the Employment Appeal Tribunal in London but the start was delayed after lawyers learned one of the lay panel members hearing the case had been a senior official with the National Education Union (NEU).

The NEU has supported the teaching of relationships, sex and health education in schools. Andrew Morris is a former assistant general secretary of the union and was one of two lay panel members sitting alongside Mrs Justice Eady.

Mrs Justice Eady, president of the EAT, said Mr Morris would no longer sit as a lay panel member in the case because of the potential for ‘unconscious bias’ and she would hear it alone. 

It is the second time a panel member has been recused from hearing Mrs Higgs’ appeal for apparent bias.

Edward Lord was recused last year because of apparent bias due to public statements they had made on LGBTQ+ rights.

Mrs Higgs accused Farmor’s School in Fairford, Gloucestershire, (pictured) of discrimination and harassment but lost her case at employment tribunal, and is now appealing against that tribunal’s decision

Meanwhile, Richard O’Dair, representing Mrs Higgs, argued that in sharing the Facebook posts she was expressing her freedoms of speech and religion.

He told the hearing: ‘It is an uncontroversial, foundational principle of convention jurisprudence that freedom of speech on important matters is granted very broad latitude as to the modes of expression.

‘That is the law. As the appellant tribunal, you will have to be confident that the employment tribunal understood that and took it into account.

‘There is a further point the tribunal should have taken account of but didn’t – That the offending language was not hers.

‘She was forwarding, as a participant, in democratic debate language by others. There is no shred of awareness here that the tribunal was aware of such subtleties.’

He argued that the employment tribunal ‘erred in law’ in concluding that a ‘reasonable person might conclude the claimant was homophobic.’

‘Freedom of speech is under threat, and it is fighting hard,’ said O’Dair. ‘In my submission, it is also true and equally not more true that freedom of religion is under that existential threat.

‘It should not be forgotten what the claimant did in this case was as an expression of her faith, and concern for the children, to seek to stimulate political debate.

He added: ‘And where we are is an indication of not only freedom of speech, but freedom of religion, are under threat.’

The hearing continues.

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