56-year-old, Dr David Mackereth from Dudley, claims the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) discriminated against his religion by suspending him after he said he would not use gender pronouns for what he called someone’s “chosen” sex.
Dr Mackereth has taken the government to an employment tribunal after he was allegedly dismissed weeks after starting as a Universal Credit assessor following a dispute with a manager at a Birmingham centre in June 2018.
The DWP says his actions are classed as “unwanted conduct” towards those undergoing gender reassignment and could have constituted harassment under the Equality Act.
However, Dr Mackereth’s lawyers, supported by the Christian Legal Centre, are putting forward the case that the DWP’s policy of forcing staff to use “gender pronouns” is a breach of equality legislation and denies the doctor freedom of thought.
The former emergency department doctor of 26 years argued that gender is “unchangeable and fundamental to who we are as people who were created in the image of God”.
On the first day of the tribunal, Dr Mackereth read various passages from the Bible and called the DWP’s decision to allegedly sack him “sinister”.
The devout Reformed Baptist told the tribunal that an “argument arose” with his manager not over “rights and sensitivities” but instead “my refusal to make an abstract ideological pledge to call any six-feet tall bearded man ‘madam’ on his whim.”
He added: “Throughout this process I kept stressing that my objection to that misuse of pronouns was based on my Christian beliefs and conscience.”
He claimed that that weeks after applying for the post in May 2018 and while on a two week training course, he was called aside by James Owen, the recruitment manager who had interviewed him weeks earlier, and questioned.
“I was engaged in working on my second real case when Mr Owen called me out of my work,” he said. The purpose was to interrogate me about my beliefs in relation to the use of pronouns.
“That discussion culminated in Mr Owen asking me the following question – ‘Let’s just summarise this. If you have a man six feet tall with a beard, who says he wants to be addressed as ‘she’ and ‘Mrs’ – would you do that?’
The DWP denies Dr Mackereth’s beliefs are “protected” under the Equality Act, while the recruitment agency which appointed him to his post has argued that his views conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
Dr Mackereth has insisted that no effort was made to accommodate his beliefs, such as referring transgender clients to other staff.
At the conclusion of his opening statement to the tribunal panel, Dr Mackereth said: “The very fact a doctor can be pulled off the shop floor for an urgent interrogation about his beliefs on gender fluidity is both absurd and very sinister.”
Asked if he thought such views would undermine the dignity of a patient, he replied: “I believe that we are made in God’s image – male and female,” he told the three-member tribunal panel. I do not believe that it would undermine somebody’s dignity.”
The tribunal continues and comes after a poll last week which found that more than half of Britons support the right for transgender people to self-identify.
The results, from a survey of 1,720 adults, have raised hopes among campaigners that the Gender Recognition Act will be reformed to include this stipulation.
Currently the issue of gender pronouns is covered with ambiguity in the Equality Act, but some sectors from higher education to healthcare have placed into internal policy the rule that “misgendering” an individual is discriminatory.