Rianne Vogels, formerly head of strategy and finance at a non-profit organization, Papillon, won her court case on May 8, 2023, in a historic verdict. She took her former employer to court after she was dismissed from her job in 2022.
Ms Vogels, originally from the Netherlands, was fired on March 31, 2022, weeks after her employer received an email from an individual called Ron Scofield, who expressed “concerns” about Vogels’ social media activity. He alleged Vogels was a bigot for joining a social network called Gettr, because of its “multiple instances of racism” and “anti-multicultural streaks.” Scofied also accused Vogels of “ridiculing young women'' after she tweeted in February, 2022, about the high numbers of girls and young women who are questioning their sex and seeking medical treatment for “gender dysphoria”.
The sender also alleged Vogels tweeted “content that aims to ridicule or associate transgender persons with crime and sexual deviancy”, claiming that “her tweets and social media presence does not reflect well on the social, diversity and multicultural message of Papillon." After her manager received the email, a series of discussion meetings ensued, in which they talked about the Working Environment Act. In these meetings Papillon said that the “statements and perspectives” expressed by Vogels were not “compatible with Papillon's values of diversity, equality and inclusion, and that they are considered harmful to the work that Papillon does, as it affects the reputation of Papillon as untrustworthy and unsafe for their target groups.”
The court ruling, from May 8, 2023, stated that Vogels’ dismissal was considered “invalid” since she had not acted “disloyally towards the employer Papillon.” The court considered that Papillon’s target group was “girls and young women with a cross-cultural or migrant background” and “trans people were not originally part of the target group.”
“It is indicated that Vogels has never advocated violating or depriving transgender people of their rights,” the ruling continues, therefore there was no “objective reason for dismissal.”
Further on, the judgment says that Papillon “uncritically highlighted reactions from two Twitter users, and later used her [Vogels’] behavior in the discussion meetings as part of the grounds for dismissal.” The document also notices that the employer “changed its grounds for dismissal along the way” and has stated that “Vogel's statements about gender identity have special protection under section 100 of the constitution as political statements.”
“Most statements that Vogels has made, directly or indirectly, in the debate about gender identity, must be considered factual,” according to the judgment. “The court nevertheless finds it clear that the statements made by Vogels on Twitter will, in principle, be well within the framework of freedom of expression. The court does not find that the statements made by Vogels on Twitter are transphobic."
Ms Vogels was awarded NOK 60,00 ($5000) of compensation for unfair dismissal, plus her legal costs. “We won on all counts, and I am satisfied with the judgment,” Ms Vogel said to 4W. “The compensation level is unremarkable within the Norwegian context. Norway doesn't have a tradition for high compensation levels in court cases. The important part is that the job dismissal was judged to be unlawful. My legal fees will also be covered.”
“A similar judgment in the UK, the Forstater case, has proven to be of great importance for employers as well as employees,” Vogels continued. “This judgment could have a similar effect in Norway, and it showcases that the Forstater judgment is relevant beyond the UK. For employees, the judgment is a reminder of their right to participate in ongoing public conversations of political significance, including on demanding and sensitive topics. For employers, a clarification of their responsibility in respecting freedom of expression as an important democratic principle is also useful.”
Maya Forstarter, who also became a witness for Vogel’s trial in Norway, won her court case against her former employer in the UK in July 2022. Her “landmark tribunal ruling” established that expressing views about the immutability of biological sex is “worthy of respect in a democratic society.”
However, according to another news outlet, Norway Posten, Papillon will “definitely consider appealing” the court’s decision, as they disagree on Norwegian labor law. They refer to the employer’s responsibility to produce guidelines to employee’s behavior on social media and must first order an employee to change their activity before they can dismiss the person concerned. The court ruling stated that Papillon had “every opportunity to clarify this by introducing guidelines for behavior in social media, by virtue of its management right. Papillon did not take advantage of this opportunity.”
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