387: Are Rangers FC fans protected by the Equalities Act?
In McClung v Doosan Babcock Ltd, the Employment Tribunal (ET) ruled in a preliminary hearing that a belief in supporting Rangers Football Club did not amount to a protected philosophical belief.
Mr McClung worked as a sub-contractor for Doosan Babcock Ltd and claimed that his manager, a Celtic fan, had stopped giving him work due to his support for Rangers Football Club. A preliminary hearing was held to decide whether Mr McClung’s belief in supporting Rangers was protected under the Equality Act 2010, using the criteria set out in the case of Grainger plc v Nicholson, namely that:
- The belief must be genuinely held;
- it must be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available;
- it must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour;
- it must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and
- it must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, be compatible with human dignity, and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
Mr McClung argued that he had supported Rangers for 42 years, was a member of the club, and spent most of his disposable income on attending matches, as well as watching games on television. He believed supporting Rangers was a way of life which motivated him to do and be the best he could and was as important to him as it was for religious people to go to Church. Mr McClung also highlighted wider matters important to Rangers fans such as Unionism, support for the monarchy, and the Orange Order.
Having considered the Grainger criteria, the ET concluded that a belief in being a supporter of Rangers did not qualify for protection. It was not in dispute that Mr McClung’s belief was genuine. However, his support for Rangers was only ‘support’, in the sense of an active interest and concern for the success of the team, rather than a ‘belief’ in a philosophy or doctrine. Although Rangers had support from a large number of people all over the world, they each had varying reasons for support and showed their allegiance in different ways. It could not be said that supporting Rangers was a belief involving a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour. The Tribunal also held that the required characteristics of cogency, cohesion and importance were lacking. Support for Rangers had no larger consequences for humanity as a whole, nothing underpinning it beyond a desire for the team to do well and win, and no impact on how people lived their lives. The Club’s Charter emphasised that everyone and anyone was welcome to support the Club, so loyalty to the monarchy and the Union were not prerequisites of being a Rangers fan. Although supporting Rangers was worthy of respect, it did not invoke the same level of respect in a democratic society as matters such as ethical veganism or the governance of a country, which have been the subject of academic research and commentary.
The Tribunal’s judgment is a helpful analysis of each of the Grainger criteria and illustrates that a belief must normally amount to a cogent philosophy or a doctrine to be protected under the Equality Act. A wider range of beliefs have been found to qualify for protection including ethical veganism, Scottish independence, and spiritualism. Employers will be reassured that even very fervent support for a political party, or a football team, is unlikely to meet the statutory test.
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