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Surveyor wins "philosophical belief" battle

3 November 2009

Workers with strong views about the environment, and who live according to them, may be entitled to the same protection against discrimination as those with religious beliefs, the EAT ruled this morning.

Tim Nicholson, an Oxford surveyor, was described by an employment tribunal this summer as having “settled views about climate change” and acting on those views in the way he led his life.

He was dismissed from his post as head of sustainability at property investment company Grainger plc last year.

The company claimed he had been made redundant for operational reasons at a time of “extraordinary market turbulence”.

Nicholson claimed he was unfairly dismissed because of his beliefs, which amounted to philosophical beliefs under the Employment Equality (Religion and Belief) Regulations 2003.

Giving judgment at the EAT, Mr Justice Burton ruled that Nicholson’s belief was capable of being covered by the regulations if it was “of a similar cogency or status to a religious belief.”

He said that philosophical beliefs based on science should not be disqualified from protection and suggested that beliefs in the political philosophies of socialism, Marxism, communism or free-market capitalism might also qualify.

Nicholson’s solicitor, Shah Qureshi, head of employment at Bindmans, argued that environmental beliefs could be the equivalent of religious beliefs, depending on how people lived their lives.

He went on: “The mere fact that a belief in climate change can also be a political view about science or the world does not detract from the fact that it can also be a deeply held philosophical belief.

“Otherwise, the end result would be that the more evidence there is to support your views, the less likely it would be for you to enjoy protection against discrimination.

“Tim Nicholson believes his views are sufficiently cogent, serious and important to receive protection under the regulations. Vast numbers of people are now living their lives in accordance with their views on climate change and the environment.

“These are often deeply held views based on the premise that without change humanity will suffer. Tim Nicholson believes that people should be able to express such views without fear of retribution or discrimination.”

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Procedures Termination Discrimination Local government The Bar