This case could be very significant. Former Times night editor Katherine O’Donnell’s employment tribunal raises an interesting question: does the content that newspapers publish fall under their duty of care to their employees?
O’Donnell alleges multiple counts of illegal behaviour towards her after she transitioned to female, and her claims lift the rock to show a “boy’s club” of entrenched sexism, bordering on misogyny. But the case also introduces something that hasn’t previously been tested. Buzzfeed:
O’Donnell and her lawyer… allege that it wasn’t just what happened in the newsroom but also what those inside it published in the newspaper about trans people that constituted a hostile, transphobic place to work.
If O’Donnell wins, newspapers and other media outlets would have to reconsider their reporting of all minorities â€“ not just gender and sexual minorities such as LGBT people, but anybody with a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. Content that bullies and demonises groups would be considered workplace bullying.
Should Oâ€™Donnell be successful, therefore, it would mean a newsroomâ€™s output could be deemed an internal, employment issue too. News outlets may in future have to consider how their coverage of trans people and other minority groups could be in breach of employment laws that protect members of these communities on their own staff from discrimination and bullying.
That doesn’t mean the titles couldn’t report accurately on minority groups or feature a range of opinion. But it could mean that the more vicious stuff would have to stop. It would be a welcome development in a climate where the press regulator IPSO won’t even rule that an invented quote was never said by anybody.
I’ve been following O’Donnell on Twitter for a long time and she strikes me as a newspaperwoman of the old school, someone who really cares about her profession but who’s been treated despicably by her employer. The Times may come to regret that.