When is a philosophical belief not a philosophical belief?
Under the Equality Act 2010, a person is protected against discrimination on the grounds of their religion or philosophical belief. When the protection was first introduced, it was on the grounds of a person’s religion or similar philosophical belief, but the word similar was dropped and is no longer in the legislation.
There has been a fair amount of case law over the last few years on the question of what amounts to a philosophical belief. The Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in Grainger plc v Nicholson (2010) set some guidelines as to what amounts to a philosophical belief, and they have said that:
The belief must be genuinely held;
A belief is more than an opinion or viewpoint;
The belief must relate to a weighty and substantial aspect pf human life and behaviour;
The belief must have a sufficient level of cogency, seriousness and importance;
The belief must be worthy of respect in a democratic society;
The belief must have a similar status to a religion;
The belief need not be shared by others; and
The belief may or may not be based on science.
The EAT did also say that not all factors needed to be present in all cases.
Whilst it is clear that the EAT in setting out these guidelines was trying to exclude frivolous cases where one or more people held some fairly unusual views, but it does not take much imagination to think of scenarios which may or may not fall into the protection offered by the legislation.
In the recent case of Gray v Mulberry (2018), Mrs Gray brought a claim of discrimination on the grounds of a philosophical belief after she was dismissed by Mulberry. Mrs Gray refused to sign a contract of employment as it contained a provision that all Intellectual Property rights created by her would belong to the company. She was writing a novel and was not happy with the clause. Mulberry agreed to specifically exclude the novel, but she still refused to sign and was ultimately dismissed. She claimed that her belief in the sanctity of copyright law was a philosophical belief and thus was protected under the Equality Act. The Employment Tribunal held that this lacked sufficient cogency to amount to a protected belief. Mrs Gray appealed to the EAT.
The EAT upheld the Tribunal’s decision. They found that the Tribunal was within its rights to reach the conclusion which it had. Significantly, they also held that there could be no indirect discrimination because, so far as they were aware from the evidence, Mrs Gray was the only person holding that belief and therefore there could not be a disadvantaged group – a fundamental requirement of indirect discrimination.
Mrs Gray has been given leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal, and if the case does go to appeal, we will let you know the outcome.
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).