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Ethical veganism – not just a lifestyle, a protected belief under UK law 

In a landmark case, the Employment Tribunal has ruled that “ethical veganism is a philosophical belief which qualifies as a protected belief” from discrimination. How did Employment Judge Postle make this ground-breaking decision?

The background
The decision was made following a claim from Mr Casamitjana against his former employer, The League Against Cruel Sports, an animal charity. Mr Casamitjana is a qualified zoologist and he became a vegan in 2000. Mr Casamitjana claims that he was unfairly dismissed because of his belief in ethical veganism. 

Before evaluating whether Mr Casamitjana was dismissed because of his belief, the Tribunal had to establish whether ethical veganism falls under the protection of the Equality Act 2010. 

It is unlawful to discriminate against someone on the basis of a protected characteristic. The Equality Act 2010 lists nine protected characteristics, one of which is “religion or belief”. Under S.10(2) of the Equality Act 2010, “belief means any religious or philosophical belief and a reference to a belief includes a reference to a lack of belief”. 

A preliminary hearing was called for 2 January 2020 and 3 January 2020 to determine whether ethical veganism is a philosophical belief protected by the Equality Act 2010. 

Interestingly, the issue was not contested by The League Against Cruel Sports and they accepted ethical veganism as a philosophical belief prior the hearing. However, the Judge felt that the evidence must be reviewed and a decision must be made by the Tribunal on the matter. 

The decision
In making the decision the Judge considered several leading cases and relevant legislation such as the Equality Act 2010 and the European Convention on Human Rights. 

Specifically, the test to determine whether a specific philosophical belief falls within the protection of the Equality Act is set out in Grainger Plc v Nicholson [2010] ICR 360 EAT

This is effectively a five-part test:

1. Was the belief genuinely held?
Judge Postle considered:

  • Over 1200 pages of evidence which included details on how philosophical veganism is defined, its history, and how it impacted the Claimant’s daily life; 
  • Witness statements from Mr Casamitjana and from Dr Jeanette Rowley from the Vegan Society; and 
  • 24 pages of written submissions provided by legal counsel on behalf of Mr Casamitjana. 

The Judge had “no doubt” that Mr Casamitjana “genuinely and sincerely holds his belief in ethical veganism”. 

2. Is it a belief and not a viewpoint? 
Consideration was given to the history of veganism. Evidence showed that philosophically the concept of veganism derived from the ancient concept of Ahimsa (meaning “not to injure”), a concept which Mr Casamitjana believes in. The concept is inspired by the premise that “all living beings have the spark of the divine spiritual energy and therefore to hurt another being is to hurt oneself”. 

The Vegan Society also provided a definition: “A philosophy and way of life which seeks to exclude, as far as possible and practical, all forms of exploitation and cruelty to animals for food, clothing or any other purpose and by extension promotes the development and use of animal free alternatives for the benefit of humans / animals and the environment, in dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.” 

Ethical veganism considers not only diet choice, but also what products and services the individual is using on a daily basis. Judge Postle found that “there is no doubt that the Claimant [Mr Casamitjana] personally holds ethical veganism as a belief”.

Some examples of the impact of ethical veganism on Mr Casamitjana’s life include:

  • A 100% vegan diet (where he is unsure about the contents of the food he will avoid it); 
  • No clothing, shoes, hats or accessories that include animal products;
  • Not attending any form of spectacle with live animals (e.g. zoos); and 
  • Walking instead of taking a bus or public transport to avoid accidental crashes with insects or birds. 

Judge Postle found that “it clearly is not simply a viewpoint, but a real and genuine belief”.

3. Is it a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour?
The Judge felt ethical veganism clearly met this limb of the test, stating: “The belief is at its heart between the interaction of human and non-human animal life. The relationship between humans and other fellow creatures is plainly a substantial aspect of human life, it has sweeping consequences on human behaviour”.

4. Does the belief attain a certain level of cogency, cohesion and importance?
The definition provided by the Vegan Society helped Judge Postle to determine that “ethical veganism is without a doubt a belief which obtains a high level of cogency, cohesion and importance.” 

Reference was also made to the “community within businesses and restaurants which adheres to this ethical principle” by the Judge. 

5. Is it worth of respect in a democratic society and compatible with human dignity? 
Judge Postle pointed to “modern day thinking” and the increasing recognition that ethical veganism is receiving nationally and the environmental benefits of vegan observance. 

In summary, the Judge stated that he “found it easy to conclude that there is overwhelming evidencethat ethical veganism is capable of being a philosophical belief and thus a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010”. 

Read the written reasons for the decision here (https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5e3419ece5274a08dc828fdd/Mr_J_Casamitjana_Costa_v_The_League_Against_Cruel_Sports_-_3331129-18_-_Open_Preliminary_Hearing_Judgment___Reasons.pdf). 

What is the impact of this decision?
This decision may open the door for other individuals to bring claims about their philosophical beliefs. However, it must be remembered that this decision has been made on the specific facts of Mr Casamitjana’s case. Previous cases have suggested that other beliefs, such as vegetarianism, did not amount to a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. 

It will be interesting to see how this case impacts the development of this area of law. 

Contact Us
If you are believe you have been discriminated against or if you are simply looking for further advice on your situation, contact us today on 0800 8321 554 or by e-mailing info@klglaw.co.uk to discuss your matter with out team of employment law specialists. 

Further information
For further guidance on issues on maternity leave read our blog posts on returning to work after maternity leave and protection from redundancy during maternity leave

Disclaimer: The above information should not be taken as legal advice. For legal advice on employment law matters please contact a member of our team directly. 



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