Ex-BBC worker can claim belief discrimination for views on broadcaster’s ‘higher purpose’

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An employment tribunal has held that a former BBC employee’s belief in the “higher purpose” of the broadcaster is a philosophical belief under discrimination legislation.

Devan Maistry claimed that the BBC had unfairly dismissed and discriminated against him on the grounds of age and the belief that “public service broadcasting has the higher purpose of promoting cultural interchange and social cohesion”.

The issue of whether or not Maistry was discriminated against on these grounds is yet to be considered by the employment tribunal.

Maistry told the tribunal he had been a student leader, trade unionist and a journalist in South Africa during the anti-apartheid struggle but was forced to flee after his reports for international news outlets led to police raids on the Press Trust of South Africa News Agency.

He said this experience had reinforced his belief that committed and concerned journalism is an essential component of democracy and that public service television provides an effective space for enhancing citizenship.

The tribunal ruled that Maistry’s views counted as a philosophical belief under discrimination legislation and said it had no doubt that Maistry’s belief was genuine.

Maistry told Personnel Today that “it was a satisfactory outcome” and that there will now be a case management discussion to decide details of the trial. He added: “I’m glad that by the end of this month we will have a clearer picture of how this will go.”

In the hearing, the BBC claimed that if Maistry’s belief could be considered as a “philosophical belief” under discrimination legislation, then the aims and values of a whole host of public and private organisations, if genuinely held by employees, could amount to such.

However, the employment tribunal stressed that its decision did not have the potential to “open the floodgates” for claims from employees arguing that they had been discriminated against because of a strongly held belief in the purpose or the mission statement of their employer.

Stephen Simpson, senior employment law editor at XpertHR, commented: “Many employers will have employees who have passionate and strongly held views as to how their organisation should be operating. This case reiterates that employers may face discrimination claims if they treat those staff members less favourably because of their beliefs.”

Full details of the employment tribunal’s judgment are available on XpertHR.

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