A PROFESSOR who was accused of being a “transphobe” after her talk at Essex University was cancelled has won an unfair dismissal claim.

An employment tribunal found that Professor Jo Phoenix was forced to quit her job at the Open University (OU) because of a “hostile environment” created by colleagues and “insufficient protection” from the university.

The evidence heard by the employment judge included claims of transphobia after the criminologist, 59, was due to give a talk on the topic of trans rights, imprisonment, and the criminal justice system at Essex University in December 2019.

The talk was cancelled after students threatened to barricade the room where the talk was due to be held, and Prof Phoenix was later told she would not be invited back to speak to the university in Colchester.

Gazette: Academic - Professor Jo PhoenixAcademic - Professor Jo Phoenix (Image: Jo Phoenix/PA)

A ruling found that the Open University (OU) “failed to protect” Prof Phoenix because it did not want to be seen to be expressing any support for academics with gender critical beliefs.

Prof Phoenix – who was compared with “a racist uncle at the Christmas table” because of her gender critical views – said the failure of the OU to support and protect her from harassment on the grounds of her views was the reason why she resigned from the job.

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The academic who was employed as a professor by the OU in August 2016, resigned from the university in December 2021.

The tribunal concluded that Prof Phoenix had been working in a “hostile environment” since summer 2019 which “intensified” by June 2021 – which was when Prof Phoenix launched the Gender Critical Research Network at the OU with two colleagues with similar views.

Gazette: Campus - Essex University in Colchester, where Prof Phoenix was due to talk in 2019Campus - Essex University in Colchester, where Prof Phoenix was due to talk in 2019 (Image: Newsquset)

The ruling, which was published this week, also concluded that Prof Phoenix was a victim of discrimination, harassment and wrongful dismissal.

An open letter – signed by 368 OU staff members and postgraduate researchers – was published which called on the university to withdraw any affiliation with the network and to take action to support trans students and staff in the “trans-hostile” environment.

The tribunal found there was a “targeted campaign” against Prof Phoenix by colleagues and the publication of the letter online contributed to the “pile on”.

Prof Phoenix said she had received death threats following the open letter and she asked the OU to take action to support her, but the ruling found she was provided with “insufficient protection” from harassment.

She said: “I am delighted that the tribunal found in my favour. It was an exceptionally painful part of my career but I am glad for the win.”

The author JK Rowling, who has previously been criticised for her views on gender, is among those who have shared messages of support with Prof Phoenix on social media.

Professor Tim Blackman, vice-chancellor of the OU, said: “We acknowledge that we can learn from this judgement and are considering the findings very carefully.

“We are deeply concerned about the wellbeing of everyone involved in the case and acknowledge the significant impact it has had on Prof Phoenix, the witnesses, and many other colleagues.

“Our priority has been to protect freedom of speech while respecting legal rights and protections.

“We are disappointed by the judgement and will need time to consider it in detail, including our right to appeal.”

Essex University declined to comment.