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Ethical veganism held to be a philosophical belief by employment tribunal

09 January 2020
In the case of Casamitjana v the League Against Cruel Sports an employment tribunal has held that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010 ("the Act").  

Background

Mr Casamitjana was employed by the League Against Cruel Sports until he was dismissed for gross misconduct.  Mr Casamitjana claims he was dismissed after disclosing his employer invested in pension funds which carried out animal testing.  

Mr Casamitjana has brought a claim under the Act asserting that his dismissal was due to his philosophical belief in ethical veganism. 

The Act makes it unlawful to discriminate against workers or job applicants on account of their religion or belief.  Belief includes religious or philosophical belief.  The question for the employment tribunal to determine in this case was whether Mr Casamitjana's belief in ethical veganism amounted to a philosophical belief. The League Against Cruel Sports conceded the point, nevertheless the tribunal needed to determine the issue.  

For something to amount to a philosophical belief and therefore a protected characteristic, it must meet the following criteria: 

  1. The belief must be genuinely held and not a mere opinion or viewpoint.
  2. The belief must be a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.
  3. The belief must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance and be worth respect in a democratic society.
  4. The belief must be compatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others

Employment tribunal 

The judge found that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief under the Act.  The judge concluded that ethical veganism was "important" and "worthy" of respect in a democratic society.  

A further hearing is due to take place on 20 February 2020 to consider whether Mr Casamitjana's was fairly dismissed for gross misconduct and whether his dismissal amounted to an act of discrimination based on his philosophical belief of ethical veganism.  

Comment 

The decision by the tribunal to confirm ethical veganism as a philosophical belief is not a surprising one. Whilst the case is being highlighted as a landmark, it was not a point that was even contested by the employer in the case. The case confirms, not surprisingly, that ethical veganism is a belief that is worthy of respect in a democratic society. As there are a significant number of ethical vegans in the UK they will now have the protection of the Act.  Provided this is respected this should not mean a significant rise in claims however employers should take care to ensure their workforce understand this belief  so that detrimental, misinformed or unconscious remarks or assumptions are not directed at or attributed to ethical vegans.

It is important to remember that this is a first instance tribunal decision and so not binding, however it does give an indication as to how tribunals would deal with similar circumstances.