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legal alert: Is veganism a “philosophical belief” under the Equality Act?

05 Dec 2018

In the wake of the resignation of William Sitwell, the editor of Waitrose Food magazine, over disparaging comments on vegans, veganism is in the spotlight and on the rise.

Is veganism a “philosophical belief” under the Equality Act affording vegans protection in employment, the provision of goods and services and in education however?  Jordi Casamitjana intends to find out in a landmark legal action. 

Mr Casamitjana claims he was sacked by the League Against Cruel Sports after disclosing it invested pension funds in firms involved in animal testing.  He claims this amounted to discrimination.

The League Against Cruel Sports denies sacking Mr Casamitjana because of his veganism, instead saying he was dismissed for gross misconduct.

Mr Casamitjana draws a distinction between “ethical veganism”, which he says is a belief that affects every single aspect of his life, and “dietary veganism”.  Whilst both involve a plant-based diet, ethical vegans avoid all forms of animal exploitation, eg. wearing clothes made from wool or leather, or using toiletries that have been tested on animals.  

As a preliminary issue, the Employment Tribunal will decide if veganism is protected in law.
 
There have already been a number of Employment Tribunal decisions in relation to what will, and will not, amount to a philosophical belief.  The definition can be summarised as follows:-

• The belief must be genuinely held;

• It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;

• It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance;

• It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others;

• It must have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief. However, it need not “allude to a fully-fledged system of thought; in other words, it does not need to be an “-ism”.

A belief in climate change, democratic socialism and it being wrong to lie under any circumstances have all been held to be capable of being philosophical beliefs.   

Membership of the BNP, a belief that people should pay their respects by wearing a poppy and denial of the holocaust were held not to be capable of being philosophical beliefs. 

If, in Mr Casamitjana’s case, the Employment Tribunal agrees that veganism is capable of being a philosophical belief, the court will go on to decide whether Mr Casamitjana’s belief was the reason, or principal reason, for his dismissal. 
 
The hearing is in March 2019.     

 
 
 

Contacts


Jackie Turner | Partner | Watson Burton LLP

Email:
jacqueline.turner@watsonburton.com
Tel:
0345 901 2032
 
 

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