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Ex-Times journalist claims paper pushes 'anti-trans agenda' and calls redundancy process 'a sham'

A transgender woman who was made redundant from the Times newspaper has branded the process a “sham” and claimed the paper pushes an “anti-trans agenda”.

Katherine O’Donnell, who worked for the Scottish edition of the Times, alleged there is a “toxic environment for trans people” at the title and criticised its reporting of transgender stories, a claim the paper strongly denies.

The Times is being sued for discrimination, harassment and victimisation – related to O’Donnell‘s protected status as having undergone gender reassignment – after they made her redundant when she turned down an offer to return to England to continue working for the paper.

However, the newspaper argues that the legal action is part of a campaign based on apparent grievances about the reporting of transgender stories and is an “improper use of the tribunal process”.

The case, being heard at an employment tribunal in Edinburgh, has raised issues of workplace culture, coverage of transgender issues by the paper, disputes over the level of seniority of her night editor role, allegations of dishonesty from staff at the Times and her redundancy, which it was argued was done on the basis of discrimination.

O’Donnell had worked at the newspaper for 14 years and was made redundant in 2018 after declining an offer to return to London to work as the chief sub-editor or taking a new role in their Glasgow office.

Rejecting the idea that she was let go due to her transgender status, the lawyer for the paper Jane Callon said: “If [O’Donnell] had been willing to work in London, she would still be employed”, pointing out that she would have retained the same pay and conditions, as well as assistance with the move.

During the final day’s evidence from the closing submissions, O’Donnell‘s lawyer Robin White said: “What we seem to have is a redundancy that doesn’t make sense”, adding that there was “hardly a scrap of paper” to justify the decision.

She said: “The only sustainable conclusion is that the redundancy process was a sham and does nothing to displace the position that the decision was in fact taken as a means of removing [O’Donnell].

“All to remove an effective, hard-working, loyal, committed, transgender employee who did not fit in with the Times’ agenda of not being in the [transgender] supportive camp.”

The editor of the Times, John Witherow (pictured), appeared before the tribunal in May and, during lengthy cross examination, defended the paper’s coverage of transgender issues, denying that there was bias or inaccuracies in the reporting.

Witherow was shown dozens of examples of stories and columns published over several years, which O’Donnell argues are evidence of a deliberate campaign against the transgender community.

In the closing submission, White wrote: “The Times, certainly once it came under the editorship of John Witherow, had a culture hostile to trans individuals, which can be seen from her treatment, but also from the journalistic output of the paper, in which material was produced deliberately to advance an anti-trans agenda by under-representation and distortion of material, contrary to good journalistic standards to which the Times subscribes.”

However, in response to the allegation, Callon argued: “In publishing the articles of which she complains, the Times undertook its role in reflecting public debate on topical issues in broader society which is separate and distinct from its managerial role as her employer.

“By bringing in the articles and witnesses from the trans community, [the claimant] has done what she said she would do during the redundancy consultation: she has set about a campaign against the Times in its coverage of transgender issues.”

They argued that O’Donnell had been supported by the newspaper organisation during her gender transition and said the acting editor role she hoped to get was given to someone more-qualified and better suited to the position, claiming that “difficulties in her relationships” with colleagues were a “constant theme throughout her employment”.

A judgment is expected in August.

Picture: Reuters/Andrew Winning

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