Case update (1): Discrimination – Are Ethical Vegans Protected?

vegetarian

What do we already know?

In our October 2019 Newsletter Case update (2): Discrimination – are vegetarians protected?, we updated you on the case of Conisbee v Crossley Farms Limited, in which the Tribunal decided that vegetarianism was not a protected belief under discrimination law. The Tribunal’s reasons were that there are a wide variety of different reasons for people to be vegetarian (such as health, animal welfare concerns and dietary preference), which do not reach the level of cogency and cohesion necessary for a philosophical belief.

However, the Tribunal in this case did comment that veganism would be more likely to be protected as:  “Vegans simply do not accept the practice under any circumstances of eating meat, fish or dairy products, and have distinct concerns about the way animals are reared, the clear belief that killing and eating animals is contrary to a civilised society and also against climate control. There you can see a clear cogency and cohesion in vegan belief, which appears contrary to vegetarianism, i.e. having numerous, differing and wide varying reasons for adopting vegetarianism.”

The below Tribunal decision on ethical veganism gives us the opportunity to explore this topic further.

What’s new?

Summary:  Is ethical veganism a protected belief under discrimination law?  :

Yes, says the Tribunal in Casamitjana v The League Against Cruel Sports.

Background:  The Equality Act 2010 provides protection against discrimination which relates to certain listed “protected characteristics” which people may possess. Religion or belief is one of the protected characteristics and is defined as:

  • any religious belief;
  • any philosophical belief; or
  • a lack of belief.

To be protected in this way, a philosophical belief must satisfy the following criteria:

  • it must be genuinely held, although it doesn’t need to be shared by others;
  • it must be a belief, not just an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available;
  • it must relate 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; and
  • it must have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief, but it doesn’t need to allude to a fully-fledged system of thought.

Facts:  Mr Jordi Casamitjana, who is an ethical vegan, was employed by the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS).   An “ethical vegan” is someone who opposes the use of animals by humans for any purpose (whereas a “dietary vegan” is someone who excludes animal products from their diet only).

Upon joining LACS, Mr Casamitjana was enrolled into its pension scheme. However, he later discovered that the pension fund was investing in companies who have been known to engage in animal testing, such as pharmaceutical or tobacco companies.

Mr Casamitjana raised this as an issue to the LACS. However, when nothing changed, he wrote to his colleagues to state what he had discovered. Mr Casamitjana was subsequently dismissed.

Mr Casamitjana brought a Tribunal claim on the basis that his dismissal was discriminatory as it was due to his philosophical belief, veganism.  LACS argues that Mr Casamitjana was dismissed for gross misconduct for a separate matter.

LACS actually conceded that ethical veganism did amount to a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010. However, at a preliminary hearing, Reading Employment Tribunal decided that despite this concession this was for the Tribunal to determine.

The issue was referred to Norwich Employment Tribunal which found that ethical veganism does constitute a philosophical belief and is a protected characteristic.

Implications: Although this is a Tribunal (first level) decision, and is not binding on other Tribunals, it does give employers guidance in relation to the likely treatment by the courts of ethical veganism.

We would recommend employers to take steps to consider whether their workplace is inclusive for vegans.  For example, whether the products and services they provide are suitable for ethical vegans, such as vegan-friendly food options in the cafeteria. Also, do ethical vegans have opportunity to object (now with protection) to, for example, handling non-vegan goods.

However, it is also important to note that vegans wanting to claim similar protection will have to establish a similar level of philosophical belief in ethical veganism, not just that they are vegan. It is because of the extensive nature of Mr Casamitjana’s belief in ethical veganism as a system of thought, that the Tribunal found it to be protected.