Last week, the Norwich Employment Tribunal held that “Ethical Veganism” is capable of being a philosophical belief and therefore protected under the Equality Act 2010.

This matter involves the Claimant, Jordi Casamitjana, being sacked by his employer, The League Against Cruel Sports. Mr Casamitjana claims he was dismissed on account of his ethical veganism, but his employer claims the reason was gross misconduct.

The Equality Act sets out a number of characteristics, which are grounds an employer is prohibited from discriminating against an employee on, such as age, race, gender, disability etc. and these are known as “protected characteristics”.

One such protected characteristic included at section 10 of the Equality Act is “Religion or Belief”. This is a characteristic which is open to some interpretation as what constitutes a belief is not necessarily obvious. To be classed as a protected characteristic, a belief must be considered a “philosophical belief”, examples of which include humanism, atheism and has also been held to include beliefs relating to matters such as manmade climate change.

In the case of Grainger Plc and others v Nicholson EAT/0219/09 The Employment Appeals Tribunal set out a number of criteria for a belief to be capable of being a characteristic protected under the Equality Act, which are:

  • A belief must be genuinely held;
  • A belief must be a belief rather than an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available;
  • A belief must be a belief which is a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
  • A belief must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion, and importance;
  • A belief must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others;
  • A belief must have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief. However, it need not allude to a fully-fledged system of thought;
  • A belief may need not be shared by others
  • Support of a political party will not amount to philosophical belief, but a belief in a political philosophy or doctrine may qualify;
  • A philosophical belief may be based on science.

Although the reason for dismissal has yet to be ruled upon, it has been held that ethical veganism is a characteristic capable of being protected under the Equality Act. The Tribunal were assisted in arriving at this conclusion by Professor of Moral Philosophy, Jeff McMahon of Corpus Christi College Oxford, who said:-

“It is very clear to me that ethical veganism is a widespread and well-substantiated philosophical belief”

In his witness statement, Mr Casamitjana, stated that the definition of ethical veganism which he subscribes to comes from that of The Vegan Society which is:-

“A philosophy and way of living which seeks to exclude - as far as is possible and practicable – all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose; and by extension promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it promotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

One witness, Dr Jeannette Rowley, founder of the International Vegan Rights Alliance, drew a distinction between dietary veganism and ethical veganism saying that ethical vegans “… do not eat non-human animals, nor do they wear the skin or hair taken from them, they seek out other consumables which have not been tested on non-human animals and which do not contain ingredients derived from their living or dead bodies.”

Although there has not yet been any finding with regard to his dismissal, Mr Casamitjana was extremely happy with last Friday’s outcome saying:-

“This can only be a good thing for the billions of animals still exploited by humans, an environment under duress and stressed public health.”

It is important to note that employment tribunal decisions are not binding on other tribunals, however, its finding could not only open the doors to other cases relating to ethical veganism, albeit the specific beliefs may vary from one ethical vegan to another, but could widen the scope for other similarly founded beliefs to be considered as protected characteristics in future.

Although the hearing last week was a preliminary hearing it will, none the less be very interesting to see how this case develops and we look forward to reading the written judgement when it becomes available.

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