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Ethical veganism is a protected belief

In a pivotal legal development, the Employment Tribunal (ET) has officially recognised ethical veganism as a protected belief under section 10 of the Equality Act 2010.

In the case of Casamitjana v The League Against Cruel Sports, the Employment Tribunal (ET) acknowledged the status of ethical veganism as a protected belief under section 10 of the Equality Act 2010. This landmark decision paves the way for potential legal recourse against discrimination on the grounds of veganism in various aspects of life, including employment.

The circumstances

Mr. Casamitjana is a devoted ethical vegan, adhering to the Vegan Society’s definition of ethical veganism as a way of life that seeks to minimise the exploitation and cruelty to animals for food, clothing, or any other purpose.

Ethical veganism (as opposed to dietary veganism or veganism with less profoundly held beliefs and practices) goes beyond nutritional choices, influencing various aspects of one’s life, including clothing, employment, travel, and social interactions. Casamitjana’s belief is substantially manifested in this way and includes a strong proselytising element.

While working for the League Against Cruel Sports, he discovered that the staff pension fund was invested in companies associated with animal testing, which he considered unethical. Despite being instructed not to do so, he informed his colleagues about the availability of ethical pension funds as an alternative. As a result, he was ultimately dismissed.

The claims

Mr. Casamitjana pursued various complaints, including direct discrimination based on his belief of ethical veganism. The ET had to establish whether ethical veganism qualified as a protected belief before considering potential discrimination claims. Although the employer did not substantially challenge the belief’s protected status, the tribunal independently assessed this issue due to its significance.

The well-established criteria for a belief to be protected include:

  1. Genuineness
  2. Not based on opinion or current information
  3. Weighty and substantial aspect of human life
  4. Cogency, seriousness, cohesion, and importance
  5. Worthy of respect in a democratic society
  6. Compatible with human dignity
  7. No conflict with the rights of others
The ET unequivocally determined that ethical veganism met these criteria and qualified for protection. It recognised the belief’s significant moral aspect, even if individuals occasionally deviate from its principles. Unlike a previous case concerning vegetarianism, the ET acknowledged that the relationship between humans and animals is a substantial aspect of human life with far-reaching implications on human behaviour. Crucially, it accepted that the belief encompassed the promotion of animal-free alternatives, aligning with the Vegan Society’s definition.

Learning points

This ruling carries considerable implications for the recognition of protected beliefs and specifically veganism. It is important to note that it is most likely to only apply to ‘ethical’ vegans and that each ethical vegan’s eligibility for protection under EqA 2010, section 10 will be assessed on an individual basis. Nevertheless, the Casamitjana case sets a crucial precedent and offers insights into the judicial approach to defining belief. Here are three key points:
  • Equality of Beliefs: The courts and tribunals emphasise the importance of not making value judgments about belief systems. Whether a belief is religious or secular, as long as it meets the Grainger criteria, it should receive equal consideration. This underscores the recognition of philosophical diversity in the workplace.
  • Discrimination Distinctions: Discrimination on the basis of belief can take two forms: direct and indirect. Direct discrimination has no defense, whereas indirect discrimination can be justified through a proportionality assessment. In belief-related cases, a distinction often arises between discriminatory treatment based on the belief itself and the manifestation of that belief. Only the latter is open to employer justification. The extent to which a belief involves “promotion” or proselytising becomes crucial in determining the scope of protection.
  • Widespread Application: The Equality Act 2010 prohibits direct and indirect discrimination on the grounds of belief. As the number of self-identified vegans continues to rise, employers may need to consider accommodating ethical vegans to stay in line with evolving equality laws. The Vegan Society provides a guide for Supporting Veganism in the Workplace.

 

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