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Battle looms over "philosophical belief"

15 September 2009

A test case which could establish whether employees with a “philosophical belief” in global warming should get the same protection against discrimination as workers with religious beliefs will reach the EAT next month.

Judge Sneath found that surveyor Tim Nicholson had “settled views about climate change and acts upon those views in way in which he leads his life”.

Ruling in Nicholson v Grainger plc and others (case no.2203367/2008), the judge said Nicholson was dismissed as head of sustainability at the property investment company after less than a year.

Nicholson said the reason for his dismissal was not redundancy, as the company claimed, but because of his beliefs. Judge Sneath said the question was whether these beliefs were covered by the Employment Equality (Religion and Belief) Regulations 2003.

The judge adopted the test set out by the EAT in the leading case of McClintock v Department of Constitutional Affairs 2008 IRLR 29 and said it was difficult to argue that Nicholson’s beliefs lacked “cogency, seriousness, cohesion or importance”.

He went on: “Furthermore, it is plain from the claimant’s description of his beliefs that they give rise to a moral order similar to the sort of moral orders derived from the major world religions that eschew certain types of meat, promote sexual abstinence and make a virtue of poverty.

“Accordingly, I hold for purposes of this case that the claimant’s beliefs are or amount to a philosophical belief within the 2003 regulations.”

Judge Sneath added that his decision should not be seen as “the thin end of the wedge” of similar complaints. He said that Nicholson’s belief went “beyond a mere opinion”, such as whether it was environmentally desirable to travel by air.

Shah Qureshi, head of employment at Bindmans, said that the Nicholson case was the first to decide whether an environmental belief could amount to a philosophical belief for the purposes of the regulations.

“The other side argued that it was a political belief, based on science,” Qureshi said. “We argued that it could be the equivalent of a religious belief, depending on how you live your life.”

In a statement, the company said: “Grainger plc rejects any suggestion that Tim Nicholson’s redundancy was based on anything other than the operational demands facing the company during a period of extraordinary market turbulence.

“We have lodged an appeal against the tribunal’s decision at the pre-hearing review and anticipate that the outcome of the appeal will support our position.”

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