28 Nov 2019

Mackereth v DWP and another 1304602/2018

Facts

Dr Mackereth was employed as a Health and Disabilities Assessor (HDA) for the DWP. His role included assessing service users who were seeking benefits, in order to assess their health. It was common for transgender people to require the services of an HDA because they generally had a higher instance of mental health concerns. Those with mental health issues were deemed vulnerable users and were not required to complete an information form before their appointment, which meant that HDAs were not aware in advance that a service user was transgender. The DWP's policy was that employees should address service users with their preferred name and use their preferred pronouns and titles. Dr Mackereth was a devout Christian and believed that a person could not change their gender at will. He therefore refused to refer to service users using the pronoun of their choice. Dr Mackereth left his employment after a conversation with his line manager during which he was alleged to have said that he would refuse to call any six foot tall bearded man "madam". He brought a claim for harassment and direct and indirect discrimination.

Decision

The employment tribunal (ET) dismissed the claim. While Christianity attracted protection under the Equality Act and Dr Mackereth's beliefs were genuinely held, there had been no discrimination because Dr Mackereth was not treated less favourably as a result of his beliefs. Any other person refusing to assess transgender people, who did not hold those beliefs, would have been treated in the same way.

Comment

As we have seen before in various cases, it is not the religious belief that leads to disciplinary action or dismissal but the way in which the employee manifests that belief at work. It has been reported that Dr Mackereth intends to appeal the ET judgment on the grounds that it suppressed his right to freedom of speech.