A Christian mental health worker in England claims in a lawsuit that she was disciplined and eventually fired from her job with a National Health Service trust after sharing a pro-life booklet with a co-worker.
Margaret Forrester was fired from the North West London NHS Trust several months after giving a colleague the booklet, which contained stories written by both women who have experienced psychological damage as the result of having an abortion and by the grandmothers of aborted children. Forrester and her attorneys from the Thomas More Legal Centre, a legal charity that offers its services in religious discrimination cases, are now accusing her former employers of violating her freedom of religion and freedom of expression rights.
Forrester, who is Roman Catholic and formerly served as a "psychological well-being practitioner" for the trust, was allegedly called into a meeting with management about a week after handing her co-worker the booklet in early November 2010. She was then "interrogated in a demeaning manner about the booklet and her pro-life views," the lawsuit claims, and was suspended from her work.
When she returned to work a week later, she was allegedly told to do "demeaning" tasks and was not permitted to do any clinical work. She claims the stress she experienced "from the harassment she was subjected to" even forced her to take some days off from work.
In early December she was called into another meeting where she told management that, given the opportunity to do it again, she would still give her colleague the booklet. In late January she was found guilty of "gross misconduct" for giving away the booklet and "gross insubordination" for saying she would do it again.
She was also accused of distributing information that "individuals may find offensive" in an earlier meeting, the suit claims, and it was made clear during the disciplinary procedure that Forrester's employers opposed the booklet because it was "religious in tone."
"At no point in the disciplinary process was it ever suggested that the person who was given the booklet or indeed anyone else had in fact found it offensive," TMLC states in her defense.
Ultimately, the suit states, Forrester was fired because she refused to accept her new position at work, which her attorneys describe as a "punishment posting" and a role that she felt was inappropriate for someone with her particular skills and training.
"The attitude of the NHS in the Margaret Forrester case is not only harmful to its employees. By limiting free discussion of the experiences of patients who have had abortions or any other type of medical treatment the NHS is harming the interests of patients," TMLC argues. "If abortion is as problem free as the NHS claims then there should be no objection to the subject being discussed amongst Health Service professionals."
The NHS is the United Kingdom's publicly-funded healthcare service, which currently provides a wide variety of free services to over 62 million people. In England, the service treats about 3 million people every week and employs approximately 1.4 million people.
While Forrester and her attorneys are making strong accusations, a spokesperson for the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust says the trust is confident that it can defend itself in court.
"Given the existence of ongoing proceedings it is not appropriate for us to comment in detail," the spokesperson said in a statement. "The Trust thoroughly disputes these allegations and will continue to defend its position vigorously. We are confident that we will be able to successfully defend these claims."
Forrester is also challenging her dismissal in a separate employment tribunal trial, which will commence with a court hearing on Oct. 8.