Karen Sunderland is suing her former employer after falling victim to ‘offence archaeology’. In 2018, when Karen was a Conservative candidate in the local elections, iNews dug up some tweets she’d posted in 2017 and managed to get her suspended by the party. The tweets reflected her sincere belief that aspects of Islamic doctrine are illiberal and unfair to women.
Four years later, when Karen was embarking on a new career, someone tipped off her employer about this episode and she was fired. Karen believes her comments were protected political speech, and that her dismissal was unfair and discriminatory. Her claim makes two important legal arguments.
First, her dismissal was either directly or indirectly because of her belief in conservatism, a belief protected by the Equality Act 2010. Establishing that conservatism is a protected belief would bring balance to the law: while there is case law protecting democratic socialism there are no equivalent protections for its right-wing counterpart. If she succeeds in winning this argument, the judgement would protect employees with conservative views which, while wholly lawful, are often distasteful to HR officers.
Second, Karen argues that she was dismissed because of her belief in freedom of speech. In short, free-thinkers attract controversy, and always have – and employers who put rigid speech codes in place are adversely affecting employees who believe in free speech. A finding that freedom of speech is a protected belief would give legal protection to other employees who manifest that belief by speaking their minds and testing received wisdom.
Karen’s trial begins on 28th March. She is being represented by barrister Francis Hoar, acting on a direct access basis. Francis is one of England’s best barristers when it comes to freedom of speech cases and party-political matters: in 2021 he published In Protection of Freedom of Speech, with a Foreword by Lord Sumption.
You can donate to Karen’s fundraiser here.