Vegan's belief system protected under equality law
By Nicola Laver
Ethical veganism satisfies the legal tests required to amount to a philosophical belief for the purposes of equality law, an employment judge has determined.
In a short summary judgment, Judge Robin Postle decided that ethical veganism is in principle a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, however, the decision is of limited significance.
In this case, The League Against Cruel Sports (the employer) had dismissed Jordi Casamitjana from his position as head of policy and research for alleged gross misconduct.
His dismissal was not related to his ethical beliefs.
Casamitjana, a zoologist by profession, is a vegan holding to strict beliefs affecting how he lives his entire life.
He has stated: “I am an ethical vegan. This involves much more than just not eating food with animal ingredients, it’s a philosophy and a belief system which encompasses most aspects of my life.”
For a belief to be protected under the 2010 Act, it must meet a number of tests, for example, it must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, be compatible with human dignity and must not conflict with the rights of others.
Applying the Grainger test under Grainger plc v Nicholson EAT/0219/09 to ethical veganism, the judge determined that the belief is protected in principle under the 2010 Act; and that the claimant ascribes to the belief to a sufficient extent in order for him to be protected (the subjective element of the test).
In reaching his conclusion, the judge drew heavily on the Vegan Society’s definition, that veganism is “a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose” – a genuine philosophical concern for all forms of sentient life and the belief that it is wrong to kill live creatures.
The judge also carefully considered how the claimant lived in his life.
Casamitjana’s lawyer, Peter Daly of Slater & Gordon, said: “The recognition of ethical veganism as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 will have potentially significant effects on employment and the workplace, education, transport and the provision of goods and services.”
However, he conceded that the significance of the ruling is limited.
“While it is possible that another vegan’s belief set would not be protected," he said, "another ethical vegan’s belief set would be, provided that it was genuinely held by that individual and whether they are someone who has ‘chosen to live as far as possible without animal products’ as defined by the Vegan Society’s definition.”
The judgment in relation to Casamitjana’s personal belief system does not, therefore, mean the beliefs of other self-proclaimed ethical vegans will automatically amount to a philosophical belief.
Employment law barrister Daniel Barnett said just because a tribunal has decided his specific belief set was protected does not mean that another vegan’s belief set will be protected.
He commented: “The same judge, a couple of months earlier, held that vegetarianism was not a protected belief.
Though the judge’s decision is notable, Barnett does not accept, as has been widely reported in the mainstream media, that it is a landmark ruling.
He commented: “Tribunal decisions don’t bind other tribunals or other employers. The case would only be ‘landmark’ if it was an appeal decision.
“And this decision isn’t being appealed because the employer conceded the belief set fell within the Equality Act.”
This means in future, each case will depend on its own set of facts.
The lawfulness of Casamitjana’s treatment by the employer is to be decided by the employment tribunal in February.