Has the ethical veganism case changed the law on discrimination?
Casamitjana v The League Against Cruel Sports [21.01.20]
An employment tribunal (ET) recently confirmed that ethical veganism could amount to a philosophical belief and as such is protected by the Equality Act 2010 (the Act). This decision has been heralded as a ‘landmark decision’ but is the impact of this decision as great as the headlines would have us believe?
Discrimination because of a philosophical belief
Under the Act employees or workers are able to bring claims if they are subjected to forms of discrimination because of a ‘philosophical belief’. The Act does not define what amounts to a ‘philosophical belief’, however, a number of cases have established a set of guidelines that provide criteria to follow. Such criteria includes that the belief:
- Is genuinely held by them.
- Is a belief, as opposed to merely an opinion or view based on current information.
- Relates to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.
- Has a certain level of cogency, seriousness and importance.
- Is worthy of respect in a democratic society and is not incompatible with human dignity or rights.
The law on what constitutes a philosophical belief has evolved over the years and the following beliefs are currently established as qualifying for protection under the Act:
- The sanctity of life which extends to an anti-fox hunting and anti-hare-coursing belief,
- The ‘higher purpose’ of public service broadcasting, and
- Man-made climate change.
Ethical veganism - a philosophical belief?
In this case, the ET had to consider whether ethical veganism amounted to a philosophical belief under the Act.
Mr Casamajanta is an ethical vegan. This means he does more than follow a plant based diet. He opposes the use of animals for any purpose. This includes not wearing clothing made of wool or leather and not using products tested on animals. His beliefs affect much of his everyday life. For example, if he can walk to a destination within an hour, he will do this instead of taking public transport to avoid accidental crashes with insects or birds.
The ET concluded that ethical veganism satisfied the tests required for it to be a philosophical belief protected under the Act. In coming to their decision, the ET concluded that ethical veganism obtained a high level of cogency, cohesion and importance, there was no conflict between veganism and human dignity, and ethical veganism did not in any way offend society or conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
This case does not herald any change in the law because the ET simply applied the guidelines as set out in previous cases to the specific facts of the case. This is, nevertheless, the first time ethical vegans have been found to be entitled to protection from discrimination. The decision is not binding on other tribunals but it does provide employers with some insight in relation to considerations they might need to consider in certain cases, such as considering the products and services employers provide in the workplace, for example, uniform and furniture provision.
The case does not mean that anyone who follows a plant based diet will be afforded protection under the Act. It is likely that merely following a plant based diet will be found to be a lifestyle choice, rather than something which relates to a weighty, substantial aspect of human life and behaviour. It is for these reasons that vegetarianism was determined not to be a philosophical belief under the Act in a previous case.
It is likely that we can expect to see an increase in cases where ETs are required to determine if beliefs, which have not previously been considered by ETs, amount to a ‘philosophical belief’ and therefore qualify for protection under the Act.