A school assistant who was sacked and had her Christian beliefs compared to Neo-Nazism for opposing transgender ideology and sharing a petition against compulsory sex education on social media, has won permission to take her case to the Court of Appeal.
Supported by the Christian Legal Centre, Kristie Higgs, 47, has been locked in a high-profile five-year legal battle with her former bosses at Fairford Secondary School in Gloucestershire.
Now, granting permission on all grounds for the case to be heard at the Court of Appeal, Rt. Hon. Lady Justice Elisabeth Laing has said:
“All the grounds of appeal are arguable with reasonable prospects of success. Even if they were not, this appeal raises at least three important questions about the dismissal of an employee for the expression of her beliefs.”
The important questions included the “erroneous view that [Mrs Higgs’] views constituted unlawful discrimination”, and: “the extent to which an employer may lawfully dismiss an employee for expressing views which are based on her religious beliefs in a forum which is not in the workplace, is not controlled by the employer, and which has a limited number of members.”
The hearing at the Court of Appeal is likely to take place this year. Its outcome will have significant ramifications for Christian freedom in the workplace and the freedom of any employee to express opposition to LGBT+ ideology without the fear of losing their livelihoods.
Two Facebook posts
In October 2018, Mrs Higgs shared two posts on her private Facebook page under her maiden name. Her profile did not mention and had no links to her employer.
Mrs Higgs had made the posts after discovering that the Church of England (CofE) school attended by her child (not the school where she was employed) planned, under the radar, to introduce ‘No Outsiders’ books on confusing and harmful gender identity. The books included ‘My princess boy’ and ‘Red: A crayon’s story’.
The first post encouraged friends and family to sign a petition challenging the government’s plans to introduce Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) to children in primary schools. The petition was not created by Mrs Higgs.
The post flagged that a government consultation on plans to make RSE mandatory for children as young as four was coming to a close. It asked its readers to sign a nationwide petition calling on the government to uphold the rights of parents to have children educated in line with their religious beliefs.
A similar petition was subsequently signed by over 115,000 people and was debated in Parliament.
In the second post, Mrs Higgs shared an article from Judybeth.com on the rise of transgender ideology in children’s books in American schools and added her own comment: “This is happening in our primary schools now.”
The article critiqued the same LGBT ‘No Outsiders’ books promoting transgenderism to children in her son’s school.
Since Mrs Higgs made these posts, her concerns have been vindicated.
In the past year, Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak, has ordered an urgent review into the extreme and sexualised materials being used in RSE.
And last month the government released long awaited transgender guidance for schools which says: “Other pupils, parents and teachers may hold protected religious or other beliefs that conflict with the decision that the school or college has made, these are legitimate views that must be respected.”
The guidance adds that schools and colleges now have specific legal duties that are framed by a child’s biological sex.
One anonymous complaint
Mrs Higgs has said that her aim at the time in 2018 had been to raise awareness among parents of the Government’s education plans and the transgender books being taught in primary schools.
However, one anonymous complaint about Mrs Higgs’ posts were made to the headteacher of Fairford Secondary School, Matthew Evans, where she had worked as a pastoral administrator without complaint for seven years.
The email said: “…a member of your staff who works directly with children has been posting homophobic and prejudiced views against the lgbt community on Facebook … [and] that this individual may exert influence over the vulnerable pupils that may end up in isolation for whatever reason. I find these views offensive and I am sure that when you look into it, you will understand my concern. …”
Mr Evans responded to the complainant saying it would be helpful to forward screenshots of “any similarly offensive posts”. The complainant emailed back, attaching screenshots of other Facebook posts made by the claimant, further explaining:
“I’m aware that not everyone has liberal views like myself but I do feel that people working directly with children should refrain from posting this type of view on social media. I know of several children at Farmors who might fit into the category of person your staff member seems to find so obnoxious, friends of my children even. …”
Lawyers representing Mrs Higgs have since argued in court that the ‘stereotyping’ of Mrs Higgs’ beliefs by the anonymous complainant was far more discriminatory than anything she had posted.
Mrs Higgs was subsequently suspended and, shaking and tearful, was ordered to leave the school premises.
An investigation report followed which recommended she be dismissed for gross misconduct because:
“By choosing to make the posts and stating that she believes in God’s Law and not Man’s Law, I believe that, on the balance of probability, this means that she holds views that are discriminatory against groups of people with protected characteristics.”
The report added that: “On the balance of probability this would be interpreted that she holds illegal discriminatory views that are not in line with the Equality Act 2010 and therefore has breached the Conduct Policy”.
Sacked for gross misconduct, Mrs Higgs was accused of ‘illegal discrimination’, ‘serious inappropriate use of social media’, and ‘online comments that could bring the school into disrepute and damage the reputation of the school.’
No evidence has ever been found that her posts brought the school into disrepute.
Subjected to a six-hour interrogation during a disciplinary hearing, Mrs Higgs’ posts, and the Christian beliefs that had shaped them, were described as akin to that of a ‘pro-Nazi right-wing extremist.’
Mrs Higgs launched legal action for discrimination and harassment on the grounds of her Christian beliefs.
An Employment Tribunal ruling in October 2020, however, found against Mrs Higgs, tenuously judging that the school had been right to dismiss her as someone reading her posts could have perceived and concluded that she was ‘transphobic’ and ‘homophobic.’
Lawyers appealed this ruling, arguing that it ‘erred in law’, was ‘perverse’ and that: “no reasonable and informed person, having read the [Mrs Higgs’] post, could conclude anything other than the posts were a critique of a certain approach to education, whether held by members of the LGBT community or non-LGBT secular liberals.”
Mrs Higgs’ appeal of this ruling and pursuit of justice has faced a series of unusual and, at times, unprecedented obstacles.
In July 2022, Mrs Higgs’ appeal was postponed after Mrs Justice Eady was forced to recuse trans activist, Edward Lord, from sitting as a lay member on the presiding panel.
It transpired that Lord, associated with Mermaids and Stonewall, had made a series of public statements relating to key issues in Mrs Higgs’ case, including the extent to which individuals should be restricted from making comments or statements regarding LGBT ideology, especially transgenderism.
In January 2023, it was also revealed in the media that senior members of the CofE and the judiciary had met at an undisclosed date to discuss Mrs Higgs’ case. The motivations, reasoning and details for such a high-level meeting are not known.
Lightning struck twice in March 2023, when in the lead up to the rescheduled appeal hearing following Edward Lord’s recusal, it was discovered that Andrew Morris, the former Assistant General Secretary of National Education Union (NEU), would be presiding as a lay member.
Under Mr Morris’ watch, during the time frame that the government is set to urgently review its ‘inappropriate’ sex education guidance, the NEU consistently took a strong position in favour of making both relationship and sex education mandatory in primary schools.
The NEU at this time was also a national leader in encouraging teaching children at primary schools about same-sex relationships and transgenderism.
Court of Appeal
Following both recusals, President of the Employment Appeal Tribunal, Mrs Justice Eady, was forced to hear Mrs Higgs’ appeal ‘judge alone’.
Justice Eady subsequently granted Mrs Higgs permission to appeal the original tribunal ruling, but instead of allowing all of her grounds of appeal to proceed, she denied her an outright win by ruling that the case should be remitted back to the Employment Tribunal to be heard again.
Appealing this decision, Mrs Higgs’ lawyers argued that: “Despite having technically ‘won’ the substantive appeal… [Mrs Higgs] will be severely prejudiced by the errors in [Justice Eady’s] reasoning…and the resulting decision to remit the case to the same Employment Tribunal. The outcome of her claim is now to be determined by the same Employment Tribunal which has already made serious errors against [Mrs Higgs]; and that determination will be on the basis of highly unsatisfactory guidance from [the courts]. There is a high risk that this will effectively render the success of EAT Grounds 1 and 2 illusory, and the [Mrs Higgs] will be denied justice once again.”
Ruling that the appeal raises a series of ‘important questions’, Rt. Hon. Lady Justice Elisabeth Laing has now allowed the case to proceed on all grounds to the Court of Appeal instead of it being remitted back to the Employment Tribunal.
Responding to the news, Mrs Higgs said:
“From the beginning, despite the many attempts by the school to suggest otherwise, this has always been about my Christian beliefs and me being discriminated against for expressing them in my own time.
“I was, and still am, appalled by the sexual ideology that was being introduced to my son’s Church of England primary school. What has happened since in schools with extreme RSE and transgender ideology shows that I was right to be concerned as a parent.
“I am very grateful to Justice Laing for allowing the case to proceed on all grounds; I now hope to receive full justice at the Court of Appeal.”
Andrea Williams, chief executive of the Christian Legal Centre, said: “One anonymous complaint, a heckler’s veto, was enough to see Kristie branded a Nazi and lose the job she loved.
“Kristie was punished in 2019 due to the climate of fear and intolerance created in our education system by Stonewall and other LGBT activist groups.
“Since her sacking, RSE and transgender ideology in our schools has been exposed as deeply harmful. The prime minister has ordered an urgent review into the extreme and sexualised RSE materials and teaching being imposed upon children. The government has now also released transgender guidance which states clearly that religious beliefs of concerned parents, like Kristie, must be respected.
“The previous judgment that upheld her sacking could not stand. In what should have been a cut and dry case of discrimination, however, it has been unnerving to encounter the series of obstacles blocking Kristie securing justice.
“No Outsiders books that promote extreme gender identity ideology, harm and confusion have no place in a Church of England or indeed any school in the UK.
“We now press on in this important case. For Kristie’s case to be heard at the Court of Appeal is a huge moment for Christian freedoms and the freedom of any employee to be able to express opposition to LGBT+ ideology without fear of losing their jobs.”
Find out more about Kristie Higgs