Rachel Millington was fired from her job last year after she revealed to bosses that she was starting the process of gender re-assignment. The case, which is coming before a Nottingham employment tribunal in September, may not necessarily create any startling legal precedents – but its reporting demonstrates just how far trans rights have come in the media over the last few years.
Until 11 September 2009, Rachel worked on contract for private company Housing And Support Solutions Limited, which specialises in caring for people with learning difficulties and challenging behaviour. In an appraisal interview one week before she was fired, Rachel was informed her work was satisfactory, and that her contract would be renewed at least until the end of November.
So why the abrupt turnaround? Rachel is sure – and will seek to demonstrate as much to an employment tribunal next month – that the company’s attitude towards her changed dramatically after she told them, in July, that she intended to transition and would henceforth be living as female, and coming to work dressed as such.
The initial reaction, according to Rachel, was hostile. She told us: “They did not take me seriously and suggested it was possibly a phase I was going through which we should talk about later.
“One of the support managers even told me it was best kept private and outside of work.”
Rachel was unimpressed. A day later, she sent her employers an e-mail stating that she had a right to come to work as female, and for the next month, she did so.
On August 14, her employers organised a team meeting from which she was excluded. Again, Rachel says they were hostile towards her and comments were made by her co-workers to the effect that it was wrong for “such people” to be working with individuals with learning difficulties and it would “ruin the reputation of the company”.
Rachel says there has never been an issue with her clients. One she fondly remembers telling her: “You’re a girly now”.
In the following weeks, Rachel endured what she considers to have been a fairly abusive atmosphere: several staff members effectively sent her to Coventry, and this was not discouraged by senior managers.
At her appraisal, the management response was to suggest that Rachel apologise to her co-workers for the distress she had caused them. This she absolutely refused to do, suggesting instead that they should apologise to her.
Rachel commenced proceedings in November 2009.
This is not a legally significant story. The Sex Discrimination Act (SDA) was amended in May 1999 to protect trans people against discrimination in employment and vocational training. There have been a number of cases involving discrimination in employment since, and, on the whole, they have had positive outcomes for the individuals involved.
On the basis of facts provided by Ms Millington, this does appear to be an open and shut case: her lawyers are seeking compensation for unfair dismissal, sexual discrimination and loss of earnings.
When we asked her former employers for a comment, an individual there said: “We are not in a position to make any comment right now. We can’t comment.”
Today, they also attempted to silence further reporting of this case by threatening to sue Ms Millington for slander.
If the legal changes are not significant, then the reporting of the case has been. A fairly full report was provided by the Daily Mail earlier this week and unlike previous cases, the tone was mostly respectful, with no hint of misgendering (i.e. still writing about the subject as a man). This is in sharp contrast to a Mail piece two years ago reporting on discrimination against Vikki-Marie Gaynor by her employer Blue Arrow, in which she was persistently referred to as “he” and “Mr”.
Rachel is pleased with the support she has received from friends, but less than happy at the attitude of the NHS, to who she has turned for support in respect of her gender re-assignment. At a recent meeting with the Nottingham Gender Clinic, she was informed that her real-life experience of living as a woman did not count unless it was supervised by the Gender Identity Clinic, and so for purposes of treatment, the clock begins now.
She is thus in the odd position of living sufficiently in role to create significant issues in the workplace, but not enough to count for the NHS.