As you may have seen in the news, a case is being brought against the League Against Cruel Sports which is believed to be the first time that someone in the UK has claimed discrimination on the basis that they are a vegan.
The Equality Act 2010 includes ‘philosophical belief’ as one of the nine protected characteristics that give protection against unlawful discrimination. The Claimant in the case, Mr Casamitjana, is arguing that his veganism meets the definition of philosophical belief and that he was dismissed because of it after raising concerns about the ethics of some of his employer’s pension funds. The League Against Cruel Sports denies that this was the case.
According to the Vegan Society, the number of vegans has quadrupled in the last 4 years and now stands at approximately 600,000 in the UK. Mr Casamitjana describes himself as an ‘ethical vegan’, not just a dietary one. This means that his veganism is about avoiding animal exploitation in every aspect of his life.
Many of the press articles have described this as a ‘landmark’ case, but actually in my opinion it is fairly obvious that ethical veganism would meet the definition of a philosophical belief. As Peter covered in our article earlier this year, case law requires that the belief in question:
- is genuinely held
- is more than an opinion or viewpoint;
- relates to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
- must have a sufficient level of cogency, seriousness and importance;
- must be worthy of respect in a democratic society;
- must have a similar status to a religion;
- need not be shared by others; and
- may or may not be based on science.
When you consider that the courts have already found that a belief in climate change amounts to a philosophical belief (the case of Grainger v Nicholson), it is difficult to see how anyone could argue that ‘ethical veganism’ does not pass the test. In fact, the Equality and Human Rights Commission actually includes veganism as an example of a philosophical belief in its guidance!
Of course, that does not necessarily mean that Mr Casamitjana’s claim will succeed. The League Against Cruel Sports have said that he was dismissed for gross misconduct. Even if veganism is protected as a philosophical belief, the Tribunal will still have to consider whether or not he was actually discriminated against.
If you would like to talk through a situation you are dealing with, or if you need advice on any aspect of employment law, please contact any member of the Pure Employment Law team (01243 836840 or firstname.lastname@example.org).
Please note that this update is not intended to be exhaustive or be a substitute for legal advice. The application of the law in this area will often depend upon the specific facts and you are advised to seek specific advice on any given scenario.