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Christian doctor who refused to use preferred pronouns loses employment tribunal case

BMJ 2019; 367 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.l5925 (Published 08 October 2019) Cite this as: BMJ 2019;367:l5925
  1. Clare Dyer
  1. The BMJ

A Christian doctor who claimed that he was forced out of his job as a disability assessor for the Department for Work and Pensions because he refused to address transgender claimants by their preferred pronouns and titles has lost his case at an employment tribunal.1

David Mackereth, 56, claimed that he had been discriminated against and denied the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion after he insisted on using the pronouns and titles appropriate to a person’s biological sex. This contravened the DWP’s agreed practice of using the pronouns and titles preferred by the individual.

Mackereth told the Birmingham employment tribunal that he believed in the truth of the Bible, including the words in Genesis 1:27: “Male and female He created them.” He did not believe it was possible to change sex or that society should accommodate or encourage anyone’s “impersonation” of the opposite sex, he said.

The three member tribunal, headed by Judge Christopher Perry, ruled, “Lack of belief in transgenderism and conscientious objection to transgenderism in our judgment are incompatible with human dignity and conflict with the fundamental rights of others, specifically here, transgender individuals.”

Mackereth trained for the Christian ministry after medical school and worked as a full time evangelist for two years before rejoining the medical profession in 1994.

He was hired as a contract worker for the DWP through a recruitment agency, starting on 29 May 2018. During the induction process from 29 May to 8 June he mentioned that he could not in good conscience use pronouns that differed from an individual’s birth sex.

The problem was referred to the clinical lead at the Birmingham office where Mackereth was contracted to work. The DWP considered whether accommodations could be made that would keep him in the job, the tribunal found, but concluded that this would not work.

A representative of the recruitment agency met Mackereth on 13 June. Mackereth told the tribunal that he was put under pressure to change his beliefs. But the tribunal found that no pressure was applied and that he was being asked to clarify how he would behave in a given situation.

On 25 June he was emailed and asked for a final time whether he would follow the agreed DWP process. If he chose not to do so, the email added, “We will respect your decision and your right to leave the contract.” The tribunal found that he had not been sacked.

Mackereth was not deliberately attempting to mislead the tribunal but he was “a poor witness whose perception of events was skewed and save where it is supported by another witness or documentary evidence his account should be given little weight,” said the tribunal in its judgment.

“No doctor or researcher or philosopher can demonstrate or prove that a person can change sex,” Mackereth said after the judgment. “Without intellectual and moral integrity, medicine cannot function and my 30 years as a doctor are now considered irrelevant compared to the risk that someone else might be offended.

“I believe that I have to appeal in order to fight for the freedom of Christians and any other NHS member of staff to speak the truth. If they cannot, then freedom of speech has died in this country, with serious ramifications for the practice of medicine in the UK.”

A DWP spokeswoman said, “We acted to protect claimants from behaviour that would have failed to treat them with dignity, so we welcome this ruling. We expect all assessors to approach their work sensitively.”

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