Rachel Meade, a social worker formerly employed by Westminster City Council, has been awarded over £58,000 in compensation after winning a harassment claim against her employer and the regulatory body, Social Work England.

The claim stemmed from the treatment Meade faced following her expression of gender-critical beliefs.

Meade found herself suspended and subjected to a lengthy disciplinary process after her Facebook activity, which included sharing gender-critical content, was reported to Social Work England. This initiated a fitness-to-practise investigation into her conduct.

The content in question included links to petitions advocating for the maintenance of sex-based protections outlined in the Equality Act, as well as posts from a sex-based rights campaign group.

Meade’s case falls within the context of a broader legal landscape regarding gender-critical beliefs, echoing previous cases like those of Maya Forstater and Allison Bailey.

Freedom of thought and expression

In a landmark decision, the London Central employment tribunal ruled earlier this year that Meade’s expressions were protected under Articles 9 and 10 of the Human Rights Act, pertaining to freedom of thought and expression. Consequently, the tribunal ordered Westminster City Council and Social Work England to pay Meade £58,344.11 in compensation for injury to feelings and aggravated damages.

Of this sum, £40,000 was awarded for injury to feelings, with both parties held jointly liable, and an additional £5,000 for aggravated damages. Social Work England alone was directed to pay £5,000 in exemplary damages, marking a rare instance of such damages being levied against a regulatory body for what the tribunal deemed a serious abuse of power.

The judgment highlighted Social Work England’s failure to acknowledge its errors and the undue pressure Meade faced to accept sanctions, emphasising the need for reform within the regulatory framework. The tribunal further mandated that both Westminster City Council and Social Work England provide training on freedom of expression and protected beliefs to relevant staff within six months.

A warning to others

Meade expressed relief at the tribunal’s decision, condemning the harassment she endured for expressing legitimate beliefs and urging Social Work England to implement necessary reforms. Her solicitor, Shazia Khan, characterised the judgment as a damning indictment of the regulatory body’s conduct and a warning to regulators against weaponizing their processes to stifle debate.

Social Work England’s chief executive, Colum Conway, acknowledged the judgment and committed to learning from the case, emphasising the regulator’s duty to protect the public while respecting diversity in social work practice.

Legal experts, including Katie Mahoney of Mishcon de Reya, underscored the significance of the judgment, particularly the award of exemplary damages against Social Work England. Mahoney emphasised the importance of protecting lawful debate and preventing its suppression through punitive measures.

The ruling sets a precedent for regulatory bodies and underscores the imperative of upholding freedom of expression within professional contexts, marking a significant victory for Meade and advocates of gender-critical beliefs.





Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.