EHRC reopens investigation into ‘toxic’ culture, ‘bullying, harassment and discrimination’

Baroness Kishwer Falkner

An investigation into the chairwoman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), Baroness Falkner, regarding complaints of bullying and harassment, has been reopened.

The investigation, which was suspended in May, was launched amid complaints of a “toxic environment” and reports of a rapid turnover of staff.

A Channel 4 report in May found that more than 40 complaints had been compiled against Falkner, reportedly including accusations of discrimination, transphobia, bullying and harassment.

One of the complaints is said to have alleged that during an EHRC board meeting, Falkner described a trans quiz show contestant as a “bloke in lipstick” – an accusation denied by the commission’s chief executive, Marcial Boo. 

Other complaints compiled by Channel 4 allege “an increase in bullying, harassment and discrimination,” as well as a “lack of trust in the impartiality and independence of our board.”

Caroline Nokes, the chairwoman of the Women and Equalities Committee, is among those to have raised “grave concerns” about the EHRC, claiming it has pursued a “very particular direction of travel when it comes to gender-critical views”, i News reported.

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Conservative MP Nokes said: “I get reports from EHRC staff anonymously that it is not a happy ship… I look at the appointment now through the prism of, this was an appointment by Liz Truss, who had a very particular agenda when it came to equalities.”

Suggestions to amend the Equality Act

Falkner, who was appointed in 2020, was criticised in April for backing plans to amend the 2010 Equality Act to define sex as “biological sex”, in a letter to equalities minister Kemi Badenoch.

After receiving a request for advice on the issue from Badenoch, Falkner said that while there “is no straightforward balance”, the equalities watchdog believed that defining sex as “biological sex” would “bring greater legal clarity”.

She gave the example of a women’s book club, that “may have to admit a trans woman who had obtained a GRC [gender recognition certificate]”.

Falkner added that “on the biological definition, it could restrict membership to biological women”.

Several members of the trans community were horrified by the suggestion, with the chair of support group TransActual, Helen Belcher, stating: “Trans people no longer seem to be people in their eyes. Our pains and struggles are seemingly irrelevant.”

EHRC chair Kishwer Falkner speaks tot eh camera
An investigation into Baroness Kishwer Falkner has been reopened. (YouTube/ UBS Centre)

In a statement given to Channel 4 in May, Falkner said she continued to work to “promote the principles of equality and human rights”.

She takes the allegations made against her “very seriously”, she added.

“It was considered appropriate to investigate the allegations through an independent investigator,” she told the broadcaster. “I will be co-operating fully with the investigation… and have every confidence in being exonerated.”

A spokesperson for the EHRC told PinkNews: “Following legal advice, the pause on the investigation has been lifted. We are unable to comment further to protect the integrity of the investigation and to ensure fairness to all parties.”