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Ethical Veganism – is it a Protected Belief Under the Equality Act?

In the landmark decision of Casamitjana Costa v League Against Cruel Sports, a tribunal ruled that an ethical vegan can pursue a discrimination claim on the ground of ethical veganism being a philosophical belief which is protected under our discrimination law.  This is particularly interesting given that vegetarianism has previously failed to meet the required legal tests and to receive protection under our discrimination law, as confirmed in our recent update.

In this case, Mr Casamitjana (“the claimant”) worked for the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) before being dismissed – LACS argued he was dismissed for gross misconduct and the claimant argued his dismissal was related to his ethical veganism and therefore discriminatory. Before the reason for dismissal could be determined, a preliminary issue had to be decided by the tribunal as to whether ethical veganism was a legally protected belief under the Equality Act and whether the discrimination claim could continue to a final hearing or not.  Whilst LACS (an animal welfare charity) did not dispute that ethical veganism should be legally protected, the issue still had to be determined by the tribunal, applying the appropriate legal tests before it determined whether the dismissal was discriminatory.

In order for a philosophical belief to gain legal protection under the Equality Act 2010, a number of legal tests have to be met, including:

  • The belief must be genuinely held by the individual and attract a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance;
  • It must be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available;
  • It must be a belief that concerns a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour; 
  • The 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; and
  • It must have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief.

The Tribunal held that the claimant’s belief was genuinely held and was more than an opinion or viewpoint. It had a weighty and substantial effect on his everyday life and behaviour. The claimant’s beliefs included the following:

  • Avoiding relationships with non-vegans;
  • Eating a 100% vegan diet and avoiding foods that could potentially harm animals in their production;
  • Avoiding using products tested on animals; and
  • Walking rather than using public transport or journeys under one hour to avoid accidental crashes with wildlife.

As you can see, the claimant did not just eat a vegan diet but the impact on his daily life went further than this. 

In reaching its decision, the Tribunal held that ethical veganism was without a doubt a belief which obtained a high level of cogency, cohesion and importance.  Further, there was no conflict between this type of veganism and human dignity and ethical veganism did not in any way offend society or conflict with the fundamental rights of others. 

It is important to note that this decision is not binding on other tribunals, however, it is a useful indicator of the factors that the tribunal will take into account when considering whether certain beliefs are protected under the Equality Act. This case could lead to further cases testing the boundaries of what is a protected philosophical belief.

Whilst this case does support that employees/former employees who are ethical vegans can take action against employers where they suffer discrimination in the workplace, protection may well depend on each person’s particular case and the extent of their personal philosophical belief and how embedded it in into their daily life.  In addition, it is not clear that someone who just eats a vegetarian or vegan diet would be protected (as the claimant’s belief in this case affected other areas of his life as well).  We may well see further cases testing these points.

In light of this decision, employers may wish to consider updating equal opportunities or anti-discrimination policies to refer to ethical veganism.

This bulletin is for general guidance only and should not be used for any other purpose. It does not constitute, and should not be relied upon as, legal advice.

JMW Solicitors is a Limited Liability Partnership.

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