by Sharan Chohan
A recent case has garnered a great deal of media coverage for recognising ‘ethical veganism’ as protected under the law. An Employment Tribunal recognised ethical veganism as a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, which makes it illegal for somebody to be discriminated against because of protected characteristics including religion or belief, race, sex, age, and disability.
Mr Jordi Casamitjana was formerly employed by the League Against Cruel Sports, a charity that campaigns against blood sports. He was dismissed after disclosing to his colleagues that the charity invested its pension funds in companies involved in animal testing. Mr Casamitjana claimed that he was discriminated against for being an ethical vegan, whilst the charity argued that Mr Casamitjana was dismissed because he committed an act of gross misconduct by providing financial advice to his colleagues, contravening the instructions of his managers.
The case of unlawful discrimination was brought to the Tribunal. Judge Robin Postle considered whether Mr Casamitjana’s veganism was a strong philosophical belief, and therefore protected under the Act. For a philosophical belief to be protected, there are various criteria it must meet: the belief must be genuinely held; it must be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on information currently available; it must be a belief regarding a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour; it must attain a level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion, and importance; and it must be worthy of respect in a democratic society.
The Tribunal decided that veganism for Mr Casamitjana was a strong philosophical belief governing every aspect of his life, a belief shared by a significant number of people across the UK. He was not simply a dietary vegan, he was an ethical vegan worthy of legal protection. As such, on January 3 the Tribunal recognised ethical veganism as a protected characteristic. However, the legitimacy of Mr Casamitjana’s dismissal is still to be determined, as the Tribunal has yet to rule on that. Also, the charity did not contest whether ethical veganism was a protected characteristic during this hearing; they argue that the dismissal was unrelated to whether or not Mr Casamitjana is vegan.
Regardless of the ultimate ruling regarding Mr Casamitjana’s dismissal, the impact of this decision is enormous: an ethical vegan is protected by law from discrimination on that basis, whether in the workplace, in education, as a consumer, when using public services, when buying or renting property, as a member or guest of a private club or association. It is unlawful for ethical vegans to be treated less favourably than non-ethical vegans or be subject to rules or policies would put them at an unfair disadvantage.
Organisations should review their current practises and make any necessary adjustments for ethical vegans. This may include having vegan options within canteens, using leather-free furniture and stocking cruelty-free cleaning products. Senior staff members should receive thorough training on how to identify and deal with discrimination and policies should be reviewed regularly to ensure that they are not indirectly discriminating against ethical vegans or any other protected class.
Veganism is currently the fastest growing lifestyle movement in the UK, and ethical vegans all across Britain will certainly benefit from the decision of the Tribunal. It will be interesting to see whether people holding other strong philosophical beliefs successfully bring discrimination claims to the Tribunal and have their belief system protected by law.