Earth Day and Ethical Veganism as a Protected Characteristic

On this 50th anniversary of Earth day, our employment solicitor Vina Madhavji reviews a recent ruling on Ethical Veganism.

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, which is celebrated by many across the world to mark their commitment to environmental protection.

UN resolution A/RES/63/278 gives recognition to Earth day and designates 22 April as International Earth day. The full text of UN resolution A/RES/63/278 can be found here.

For an increasing number of individuals, a commitment to a plant based diet is a conviction and a way of life, which has recently been recognised in the Employment Tribunal case law.

The Equality Act 2010 protects employees from discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief – one of the nine protected characteristics listed in Section 4 of the Act.

A belief must meet the definition of a philosophical belief (or a religious belief) under section 10 of the Equality Act in order to qualify for protection.

An Employment Tribunal (ET) has ruled that ethical veganism passes the test used in such cases.

Ethical vegans try to avoid using any product associated with exploitation of animals. Like dietary vegans, they eat a plant-based diet, but they also avoid wearing clothes made from leather or using products tested on animals.

After he was dismissed from his post, Jordi Casamitjana Costa, an ethical vegan, brought a claim against his former employer, the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS), for unfair dismissal on the grounds of discrimination. He claimed that he was dismissed as a result of his ethical veganism, although the LACS denied this. Upon discovering that the staff pension fund was invested in companies implicated with animal testing Mr Casamitjana Costa alerted his colleagues to alternative available pension funds that were not. He was instructed by LACS not to do so and was ultimately dismissed.

Before ruling on Mr Casamitjana Costa’s case, the ET, at a preliminary hearing, had to decide whether ethical veganism constituted a philosophical belief. In the case of Grainger plc v Nicholson, the Employment Appeal Tribunal defined what would constitute a philosophical belief:-

  • The belief must be genuinely held;
  • It must be a belief and 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;
  • It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

At the preliminary hearing, which was heard in January 2020, Mr Casamitjana argued successfully that ethical veganism met the Grainger criteria and can thus constitute a protected characteristic under the Act.

Each ethical vegan must satisfy the definition  of belief under s.10 of the Equality Act 2010 on a case-by-case basis. In this case the Claimant was able to provide extensive evidence of his life-style choices and demonstrate that these were in alignment with his philosophical belief.

The Tribunal found ethical veganism to be a belief and not just a view point; the Tribunal stated at paragraph 34:  it is clear it is founded upon a longstanding tradition recognising the moral consequences of non-human animal sentience which has been upheld by both religious and atheists alike”.

At paragraph 11 of the judgement, the Tribunal referenced the philosophical roots of the veganism and specifically in the ancient  principle of Ahimsa or ‘non-violence’ found within ancient philosophies.

At paragraph 15 of the judgement the Tribunal stated  It is clear veganism is living according to a belief or conviction that it is wrong to exploit and kill living beings unnecessarily and that moral conviction is cogent, serious and important”.

The ET recognised that the relationship between humans and other fellow creatures is plainly a substantial aspect of human life with sweeping consequences on human behaviour and clearly it is capable of constituting a belief which seeks to avoid the exploitation of fellow species”.

The Tribunal found ethical veganism to be a cogent ethical belief and way of life that sought to protect animals from harm and exploitation by way of choices made in the consumption of food, clothing and other purposes.

As such, the Tribunal found that the Grainger criteria had been satisfied in this case.

Following the ET’s preliminary ruling, the matter was ultimately settled between the parties. Both decisions can be read on gov.uk

If you would like further advice on any aspect of employment law please contact our Employment solicitor Vina Madhavji on on 01254 31 12 82 or complete our online enquiry form and one of our experts will contact you.

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