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Home / News and Insights / Press / Mulberry employee who refused to sign contract on philosophical grounds loses appeal

A woman who was fired after refusing to sign a luxury handbag company’s copyright agreement as she claimed it went against her philosophical beliefs has lost her case at the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT). Ms A Gray argued her belief that ‘the statutory human or moral right to own the copyright and moral rights of her own creative works and output’ was protected against the Equality Act 2010.

Gray worked for Mulberry as a market support assistant and was asked to sign a copyright agreement containing clauses that would allow the company to own the copyright of works she created while she was employed by it. Gray refused to sign the agreement, expressing her concerns that the contract would infringe on her activities away from work. The company clarified it had no interest in owning her personal work and amended the agreement to make it clear it was only designed to protect work relating to Mulberry, however Gray did not give her consent as she considered the wording to be ‘general and open to interpretation’.

After a series of meetings with HR where the company told her it was withdrawing the amended agreement and asked her to sign the original contract to which she refused, she was dismissed with notice.

According to the EAT judgment, Gray had not at any point during her employment expressed that she had a philosophical belief, nor did she explain it was her reason for refusing to sign the agreement.

Gray lodged an unfair dismissal claim, although later changed it to one for direct and indirect discrimination. Her case was heard at Bristol Employment Tribunal in October 2016.

The tribunal dismissed her claim. It found that not only did her belief not fall within the definition in the legislation, but even if it did, the company did not fire her on the basis of the belief, and its actions had been proportionate to achieving its aim of protecting its intellectual property rights.

The EAT agreed with the tribunal. ‘The refusal to sign could, objectively viewed, have been for any number of reasons, none of which had anything to do with a philosophical belief,’ said Judge Choudhury. ‘In the absence of any meaningful expression of her belief, the necessary intimate link, in the circumstances of this case, simply does not exist.’

Our partner Nicholas Le Riche comments that the case was ‘a useful summary of the issues that have to be taken into account when deciding whether a particular belief is sufficiently well formed to gain protection under the Equality Act’.

The full article is available in People Management.

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