Employment Law Update: ‘Ethical Veganism’

In a somewhat surprising decision in Casamitjana v The League Against Cruel Sports, the Norwich Employment Tribunal have given a judgment at a preliminary hearing to determine that ethical veganism can amount to a philosophical belief and is thus a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. The effect is therefore that the individual holding that protected characteristic has rights to bring claims under the Equality Act 2010, including claims for discrimination. Ethical veganism means that the Claimant, Mr Jordi Casamitjana Costa, follows a vegan diet and also opposes the use of animals for any purpose. This differs from health vegans, who choose a vegan diet related to reasons of individual health. His employer, the Respondent, is an animal welfare charity which campaigns against sports which rely on animals and hunting. 

The Claimant discovered that the Respondent’s pension funds were being invested in companies which harmed animals, which in his view was unethical. The Claimant took steps to change his own fund to an alternative ethical fund, and also emailed a number of his colleagues to inform them of this and the steps he had taken to change his fund. This included supplying a table of fund choices and his opinions on the same.

The Claimant was dismissed for gross misconduct on the basis that had given financial advice in breach of repeated instructions not to do so. The Respondent denied that the dismissal was by reason of or connected to the Claimant’s philosophical belief.

The Equality Act 2010 provides protection against discrimination based on “religion or belief”. This is widely defined, however, case law has established that for a belief to be a protected philosophical belief, it must:

1. Be genuinely held;
2. Be a belief not merely an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available; 
3. Be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
4. Attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance;
5. Be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

Employment Judge Postle, who heard the issue at a Preliminary Hearing, confirmed that they were satisfied that the ethical veganism is capable of being a philosophical belief and was therefore a protected characteristic. EJ Postle commented that it was easy to conclude this given the overwhelming evidence before the Tribunal.

There is a full-merits hearing which is currently taking place and is due to end on 6 March 2020. Watch this space.

This is contrasted by the decision of EJ Postle, again sitting in the Norwich Employment Tribunal in Conisbee v Crossley Farms Ltd which held that vegetarianism is not capable of amounting to a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010.