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Veganism and vegetarianism

**Stop Press** The hearing has been postponed, we’ll keep you updated.

To what degree should veganism and vegetarianism be recognised as philosophical beliefs under the Equality Act?

These are questions which have recently been the subject of judicial scrutiny by Employment Tribunal judges, and with very interesting results.  It may be surprising to think that such ‘isms’ could be worthy of equal protection to people’s gender, disability or age under UK equality laws.  However, it has long been recognised that the protected characteristic of “religion or belief” under the Equality Act 2010 is broad enough to encapsulate more than just widely recognised religions, and can extend to a whole host of different belief systems, provided such beliefs are serious, coherent and important.  The guidance issued by the Employment Appeal Tribunal in 2010 about the criteria for a philosophical belief in the case of Grainger still hold true today in that to be protected, the belief must be:

  • Genuinely held
  • Be a belief not an opinion or viewpoint
  • Be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
  • Attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance
  • Be worthy of respect in a democratic society, compatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others

In Grainger, the Employment Appeal Tribunal indicated that vegetarianism may meet the above criteria and be protected as a philosophical belief if all these elements were satisfied in the individual case.

Given the growing numbers of people choosing to lead a meat-free lifestyle, it was only a matter of time before the first cases started to trickle through to the Employment Tribunals to test out the principle of whether such lifestyle choices were worthy of protection.  The Employment Tribunal in the case of Conisbee v Crossley Farms Ltd & ors, was clear that while Mr Conisbee’s vegetarian belief was genuinely held and worthy of respect in a democratic society, it failed to meet the other legal hurdles for protection.  In particular, in this case, Mr Conisbee was found to have chosen to be a vegetarian because of a belief that the world would be a better place if animals were not killed for food.  His belief was found to lack the necessary cogency or seriousness under the Grainger test.  

The case of Conisbee is to be contrasted with that of Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports, a claim concerning Mr Casamitjana’s ethical vegan beliefs and the extent to which they influenced the decision to dismiss him from his employment with LACS.  In this case, Mr Casamitjana said his veganism was more than a mere lifestyle choice and met all the relevant legal criteria because his belief in veganism was based on ethical principles.  LACS initially contested that Mr Casamitjana’s veganism was sufficient to amount to a philosophical belief worthy of protection under the Equality Act, but later conceded the point and so the hearing that had been scheduled in March this year did not go ahead.  Mr Casamitjana’s case will now proceed to a full Hearing to determine whether his veganism did, in fact, cause or contribute to his dismissal.  However, in an unusual step, the Tribunal Judge has decided that it is important for there to be a judicial ruling on the status of ‘ethical vegetarianism’ and so a new hearing to determine that point has been set for October 2019. 

We are monitoring the case closely and will share the outcome in a future edition of our newsletter.  For now, our prediction is that the Tribunal will rule in favour of ethical veganism having the potential to be a protected characteristic in principle and we’ll start to see larger numbers of discrimination claims where ethical veganism is cited as the protected characteristic. 

As a final warning, Conisbee should not be treated as setting a precedent that vegetarianism is incapable of protection under the Equality Act.  There are many who believe the Employment Judge in that case adopted too simplistic a view and that, if appealed, the decision may be overturned.  In any given case, it will always be important to assess the individual’s belief against the Grainger principles to see whether they are met.

For more information about any of the matters raised in this article, please contact Tiggy or Emma.

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