An employment judge has ruled that Stoicism – a Hellenistic philosophy from the third century BC – is a protected characteristic as he considered the case of a former Lidl supermarket worker who was sacked after offending colleagues.
Communications worker Samuel Jackson argued that his philosophical beliefs, formulated by Zeno of Citium in around 300BC and taught in ancient Athens, meant he must adhere to the truth without fear of offending other people.
Judge Simon Cheetham, at Croydon employment tribunal in south London, agreed that Stoicism was a belief protected under the Equality Act 2000, and allowed Mr Jackson’s discrimination claim to proceed to the next stage.
Mr Jackson told the hearing, held virtually over two days this month, that his Stoic beliefs meant he was bound to say what he liked, no matter how offensive, without moral or ethical repercussions. However, he had been sacked after saying that “Asians were greasy” and for failing to “apologise sufficiently”, his managers at Lidl not being overly impressed by his ancient beliefs.
The claimant explained to the tribunal: “The realisation that the consequence of what I say would cause offence would not stop me from saying it.”
The judge agreed with Mr Jackson’s description of himself as “not being a consequentialist, by which he meant that the consequences of what he says or does would not prevent him from saying or doing that thing”.
Stoicism was “just one of innumerable schools of thought attempting to answer the most profound questions”, he added. He said Mr Jackson had “demonstrated this through his contextualisation of Stoicism alongside the major religions”.
“I found him to be a truthful witness,” the judge concluded.
Mr Jackson is also claiming against Lidl for disability discrimination. He said that he was dyslexic so “mixed up his words” and could not properly apologise. His application to be treated as a disabled person was also successful.
However, the judge dismissed Mr Jackson’s claims of direct disability discrimination and direct discrimination because of religion or belief as having “no reasonable prospect of success”.
The tribunal allowed claims of indirect belief and disability discrimination to proceed to a full hearing. A date for the final hearing in which the claims will be heard is yet to be set.
According to the Stamford encyclopedia of philosophy, Stoics held that emotions like fear or envy (or passionate love of anything) were false judgements and that the sage – a person who had attained moral and intellectual perfection – would not undergo them. The encyclopedia states: “Though it seems clear that some Stoics took a kind of perverse joy in advocating views which seem so at odds with common sense, they did not do so simply to shock.”
Unfortunately, the court will of course be unable to draw on Zeno of Citium’s views of Mr Jackson’s case.