226: Ethical veganism a protected philosophical belief
In Casamitjana Costa v The League Against Cruel Sports, an Employment Tribunal has ruled that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief which qualifies for protection under the Equality Act 2010.
The claimant is a qualified zoologist and has worked in animal protection for most of his working life. He became an ethical vegan in 2000 and since then has not eaten animal products or worn clothes containing animal products. The claimant follows the principles of Ahimsa, one of the main premises of the ancient Indian religion of Jainism, which advocates not hurting any living being and therefore opposes any form of animal exploitation. For example, the claimant walks rather than use public transport to avoid accidental crashes with insects or birds, avoids bank notes manufactured using animal products and tries to avoid sitting on leather seats.
The claimant worked as Head of Policy and Research at The League Against Cruel Sports. He became aware that his employer’s pension funds were invested in companies that did not adhere to the principles of ethical veganism and shared his findings with his colleagues. He was summarily dismissed for repeatedly failing to follow a management instruction not to provide financial advice to his colleagues. The claimant then brought various complaints, including claims of discrimination, harassment and victimisation on grounds of his belief in ethical veganism. Unusually, the employer conceded that ethical veganism is a protected belief. However, a preliminary hearing was nevertheless held to review the evidence on this issue.
Applying the test established in the case of Grainger plc v Nicholson, the Employment Tribunal held that the claimant’s belief in ethical veganism is genuinely and sincerely held and more than an opinion or viewpoint. Since his belief concerns the relationship between humans and other animals, it relates to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour. Ethical veganism is also a belief which has a high degree of cogency, cohesion and importance. Particularly given modern day thinking, it is clear that ethical veganism does not offend society or conflict with the fundamental rights of others and is worthy of respect in a democratic society. The Tribunal therefore concluded that there was overwhelming evidence that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief and therefore a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. The case will now proceed to a full merits hearing.
This case illustrates that protection under the Equality Act 2010 extends well beyond religious beliefs. It is clear that a Tribunal may view ethical veganism differently to veganism where only animal foods are avoided, although the test for whether a belief qualifies for protection under the Equality Act is not a high hurdle for claimants. As the Tribunal noted here, it was clear that the claimant dedicates his life to his belief in ethical veganism through what he eats, where he works, what he wears, the products he uses, where he shops and with whom he associates. This is therefore not a surprising decision. It is also worth noting that the question of whether the claimant’s beliefs were relevant to his dismissal remains to be decided.