Ethical Veganism. A Protected Characteristic

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Ethical Veganism amounts to a philosophical belief and is therefore a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

So said the employment tribunal in a recent case brought by Jordi Casamitjana against his employer the League Against Cruel Sports (“the Company”).

Mr Casamitjana was dismissed by the Company after he raised concerns with colleagues that its pension fund invested in companies who tested their products on animals. He asserts that he was unfairly disciplined because of this and that the decision to dismiss him was reached because of his belief in ethical veganism.

Beyond eating a plant-based diet, ethical vegans also try to avoid products which are the result of animal exploitation. For example they avoid wearing clothes made of wool or leather and try not use public transport because of the damage it does to wildlife.

The Equality Act 2010 (EqA 2010) offers protection from unlawful discrimination to individuals who hold religious or philosophical beliefs, as well as those individuals who lack a particular religion or belief.

For a belief (or lack of belief) to fall under the protection of the EqA 2010 it must be a cogent one and one that is worthy of respect in a democratic society. It must also be compatible with human dignity whilst not conflicting with the rights of others. This is the legal test that has been in place since the landmark ruling in Grainger in 2010.

It’s worth noting at this stage that this ruling was made at a Preliminary Hearing and so is not binding and does not make any changes to the EqA 2010. Nor does it settle the Mr Casamitjana’s claim that he has been unfairly dismissed – the employer continues to defend the case on the basis that he was dismissed for gross misconduct, rather than because of his beliefs.

What the ruling does do, however, is provide clarity for employees and employers alike around how an employment tribunal will handle discrimination cases involving ethical vegans in the future. This in and of itself will give employers food for thought about issues such as uniform choices now avoiding wool or leather and where food is provided offering vegan-friendly options.

The substantive hearing for Mr Casamitjana’s case is scheduled to take place next month and it will be interesting to see how the tribunal deal with the points raised around ethical veganism.

If you are an employee who thinks they may have been treated differently because of their philosophical belief or an employer who wants to make sure they are complying with their duties under the Equality Act 2010 then please call Cartwright King on 0115 958 744 to speak to a member of our Employment law team for expert legal advice.

For more information about Discrimination law generally please click here.

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