A sheriff has dismissed a legal action brought by a Dundee law student investigated by university bosses for saying “women have vaginas” during an academic discussion.
Lisa Keogh, 30, instructed lawyers to take Abertay University to court after she was probed over allegations remarks she made during a discussion on transgender issues were offensive.
Her legal team went to Dundee Sheriff Court earlier this year to argue the investigation breached her human rights and the Equality Act 2010.
Her legal action followed a two-month probe carried out by the university into the mother-of-two while she sat her final exams for a law degree.
The university had received a complaint Ms Keogh’s comment was “hurtful” and she was “hostile and aggressive and made comments which were variously hateful, discriminatory, sexist, racist and transphobic.”
However, the university concluded there was no evidence she had done anything wrong.
Ms Keogh launched the legal action claiming Abertay discriminated against her on the basis she had “gender critical” views about feminism.
Supporters of gender critical views believe people cannot change sex.
She claimed Abertay had only launched disciplinary proceedings because of her views and this breached human rights laws.
However, in a written judgment issued by Sheriff Gregor Murray on Friday, Ms Keogh’s action was dismissed.
Sheriff Murray upheld submissions made to him by lawyers acting for Abertay.
The university wanted the action dismissed before evidence began on the grounds Ms Keogh’s case had no chance of succeeding and the institution had acted lawfully and followed correct procedures.
Sheriff Murray agreed, saying Ms Keogh’s case would not be able to pass legal tests needed for success.
University entitled to investigate
In the judgement, Sheriff Murray wrote: “The defender (Abertay) was entitled to take steps to investigate complaints.
“It could not be guilty of discrimination simply because it did so.
“Following investigation in this case, the complaint against the pursuer was not upheld.
“She did not plead that the defender behaved dishonestly or unreasonably by following its complaints process.”
He noted Ms Keogh had claimed being subjected to a hearing before the student disciplinary board meant “she suffered injured feelings, stress, anxiety and sleeplessness” but he said this was “irrelevant”.
“First, those developments could not have subjected the pursuer to detriment… the code obliged the defender to investigate the complaint.
“The number, nature and timing of the allegations, and the involvement of at least three final year students who were about to sit examinations, all placed the university in exactly the type of ‘tricky territory’ that entitled it to investigate immediately.”
‘I thought it was a joke’
The Courier told in May 2021 how mature student Ms Keogh, originally from Mid-Craigie, was reported by younger classmates after she said women were born with female genitals and “the difference in physical strength of men versus women is a fact”.
Mother-of-two Ms Keogh said she was astonished to receive an email accusing her of transphobic and offensive comments during seminars on gender feminism and the law.
“I thought it was a joke.
“I thought there was no way that the university would pursue me for utilising my legal right to freedom of speech.”
She was accused of saying women were the “weaker sex” and classmates were “man-hating feminists” when one suggested all men were rapists and posed a danger to women.
She said: “I didn’t deny saying these things and told the university exactly why I did so.
“I didn’t intend to be offensive but I did take part in a debate and outlined my sincerely held views.
“I was abused and called names by the other students, who told me I was a ‘typical white, cis girl’.
“You have got to be able to freely exchange differing opinions otherwise it’s not a debate.”
‘Muted’ by lecturer
Ms Keogh – who joined the Alba party to stand as an Angus Council candidate – also claimed she was muted by her lecturer in a video seminar when she raised concerns about a trans woman taking part in mixed martial arts bouts.
She said: “I made the point that this woman had testosterone in her body for 32 years and as such, would be genetically stronger than your average woman.
“I wasn’t being mean, transphobic or offensive.
“I was stating a basic biological fact.
“I previously worked as a mechanic and when I was in the workshop there were some heavy things that I just couldn’t lift but male colleagues could.”
Sheriff stresses limits of judgement
In the judgment issued on Friday, Sheriff Murray stressed his judgement applied only to the submissions presented to the court and not on any other issue.
He wrote: “These proceedings have generated some publicity.
“As this judgement may be read by those who are not legally trained, it may be necessary to make two initial points.
“First, it only addresses the defender’s preliminary argument that the action should be dismissed without evidence being led.
“Second, a court may only sustain such an argument if an action is bound to fail, even assuming all the averments in a pursuer’s written pleadings are true.
“That assumption explains why I must not address two further issues which are clearly important to the pursuer – first, the truth of what happened during two courses which she undertook at the university and second, the validity of certain gender critical beliefs which she expressed during them.”
Sheriff Murray also wrote another hearing will take place in the near future to deal with legal costs.
A spokesperson for Abertay University said “We note the court’s decision in this matter.”
Ms Keogh has been contacted for comment.