With her own (unofficial) dedicated Twitter account and people following the proceedings live daily via video, barrister Allison Bailey’s unlawful discrimination case against her Garden Court and Stonewall firms has seen levels of engagement rare for a labor court.
The reason is that the case, which is due to hear closing arguments on Monday, is a microcosm of the larger debate over transgender rights.
In one corner is Bailey, a lesbian and founder of the LGB Alliance, created in direct opposition to Stonewall and accused of transphobia. In the other is a chamber that prides itself on being progressive and the LGBTQ+ charity.
The case concerns the reaction of Garden Court Chambers (GCC) after tweets by Bailey criticizing Stonewall’s position on trans rights were the subject of complaints, including by the charity, which accused her of “transphobic abuse”.
Bailey, a friend of JK Rowling, was asked to delete two tweets but refused to do so. She claims she was then prejudiced, due to “organizational ‘politics’ resulting from the backlash to her objections to Stonewall.” Bailey alleges direct discrimination based on her gender views.
Although the lawyers are self-employed, under the Equality Act Bailey is able to sue her chambers because it is a trade association and Stonewall on the grounds that she allegedly ordered, caused or incited GCC to break the law, which the charity denies.
Even though GCC risks financial and reputational loss, it is to some extent a bit of a gambler. Bailey’s crowdfunding for her legal costs, which raised more than £550,000, is titled ‘I’m Suing Stonewall’.
This reflects the fact that for the LGB Alliance and its allies, charity is their sworn enemy. Discussing Stonewall’s Diversity Champions Program for Employers, of which GCC was a member, Bailey told the court: ‘The incentive that Stonewall offers with its program is reputation protection or reputation damage. [for the employer]. It’s like a criminal protection racket.
For her part, Stonewall argues that Bailey was tricked into bringing a case that “lacks legal merit” by her “visceral and unrelenting hostility” to the charity.
Irreconcilable differences were evident from the outset when Bailey’s solicitor Ben Cooper QC made it clear that she objected to being called ‘cis’ and said that at times during the case she would need to refer to trans women as “men” or “men”. — in direct opposition to the beliefs of trans rights advocates. For Stonewall, Ijeoma Omambala QC asked that his side be allowed to use the word cis when not talking about Bailey.
Reflecting the wider hostilities sparked by the subject, Judge Sarah Goodman was forced to intervene due to abuse – a taunt/threat towards Bailey and misinterpretation of Omambala’s junior lawyer – by people who watch online.
Neither Stonewall nor GCC disputes that gender opinions are a protected characteristic, as was established by the Labor Appeals Tribunal in the case brought by Maya Forstater, an ally of Bailey. But they claim the language Bailey used was unprotected because it went beyond beliefs that sex, rather than gender, is fundamentally important.
In one of two tweets that Bailey was asked to delete, she thanked the Times for “fairly and accurately reporting the appalling levels of intimidation, fear and coercion that fuel the self-help agenda.” trans id of @stonewalluk”.
In the other, she said, “Stonewall recently hired Morgan Page, a male-bodied person who ran workshops for the sole purpose of coaching straight men who identify as lesbians on how they can coerce young lesbians to have sex with them. Page called [the workshop] ‘overcome the ceiling of cotton’ and it is popular.
Andrew Hochhauser QC, acting for GCC, said in written submissions that the law distinguished “between a protected belief and the way it is expressed. There is no license to abuse.
Cathryn McGahey QC, who while deputy chair of the Law Society’s ethics committee advised GCC that the tweets were ‘probably on the borderline of acceptable conduct’, told the court that their content did not was “unsubstantiated”. She also said that what Bailey accused Stonewall of – intimidation, incitement of fear and coercion – was “potentially criminal conduct”.
Hochhauser and McGahey’s interpretations were dismissed by Cooper and in tense exchanges, he and McGahey also clashed over whether the workshops mentioned in the second tweet involved “coercion”, as Bailey wrote. , or “persuasion,” as she suggested.
Bailey said her firm had committed “a disgraceful and disgraceful act” by tweeting that she was being investigated for her social media posts in response to complaints from “white men abusing me on Twitter “.
She also claims indirect indiscrimination, arguing that the gender-sensitive movement is “composed primarily of women and disproportionately lesbians” – an argument which GCC says lacks evidence – and that they were therefore more likely to disadvantaged by chamber policies.
When the judgment arrives, weeks or months from now, it will inevitably be heralded as a proxy victory by one side of the larger trans-gender critic debate.
But that might ultimately come down to a more prosaic question than Goodman’s interpretation of the language used in the affected tweets and whether GCC was right to investigate them if the judge doesn’t find Bailey suffered the harms she alleges. .
In her witness statement, the lawyer said she suffered loss of work from GCC employees due to issues she “raised about the Chambers’ affiliation with Stonewall and the opinion that I was transphobic”.
But GCC says that claim is “ridiculous” and unsubstantiated. The chambers insist they were professionally bound to investigate the complaints, but the conclusion was that ‘no action was needed’ and that was the end of the matter.