In a recent blog, we discussed a case which concluded that vegetarianism did not amount to a philosophical belief for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. In the last week, it has been reported that the employment tribunal in the case of Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports concluded that ethical veganism is capable of being a protected philosophical belief.
There has been much reporting of this case in the media, but it should be noted that this decision does not effect any change in the law, nor does it form precedent that anyone who is vegan is protected from discrimination on the grounds of philosophical belief. The decision is of a tribunal at first instance and therefore not binding on any other tribunal. It does provide an indication of how future courts or tribunals might consider the issue, but the matter is generally fairly fact specific and in many cases will depend on the evidence which is produced as to the extent of the Claimant’s beliefs.
Previous cases have set out criteria for what amounts to a philosophical belief, which are:
In the Conisbee case discussed in our previous blog, while vegetarianism met many of the tests for philosophical belief, it was found not to amount to such a belief because it was considered a ‘lifestyle choice’ rather than relating to a weighty aspect of human life and behaviour, and did not have the requisite level of cogency as there are differing reasons for adopting vegetarianism.
The tribunal has not yet provided its written reasons, but it is understood that in this case, Mr Casamitjana is an ethical vegan, meaning that his beliefs are based on the ethical treatment of animals and avoiding the use of animals by humans for any purpose. This extends to all aspects of life, avoiding animal products and animal use or exploitation in all products and services. The original issue which led to the case related to his concerns about the company pension scheme funds being invested in companies involved in animal testing, which was against his beliefs. This widespread belief does appear to hold the status and cogency required and is the likely reason that it has been held to be a philosophical belief within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010. The tribunal is still to have a further hearing to decide if Mr Casamitjana’s dismissal was because of his ethical veganism, which the League Against Cruel Sports denies.
However, not everyone who adopts a vegan diet is an ethical vegan and adopts the same approach to other products and services, or does so for the same reasons. Therefore the key point in terms of evidence in such cases is likely not to be the fact of a person’s veganism, but the beliefs underpinning their adoption of a vegan lifestyle and the extent of it. This case is not therefore a blanket decision that anyone who identifies themselves as vegan automatically holds a protected philosophical belief. However, it is an indication that this could be the case, and employers should be mindful of this fact.