Jedi discrimination case highlights trend for ‘bizarre’ claims, experts say

The latest ‘Jedi’ who is claiming religious discrimination reflects the increasing number of “bizarre beliefs” being cited in claims, according to legal experts.

Chris Jarvis, a member of the International Church of Jediism, whose doctrine decrees members should be allowed to wear hoods, said he was a victim of religious discrimination after he was thrown out of his local Jobcentre in Southend for refusing to lower his hood.

The 31-year-old told the Sun: “I was just standing up for my beliefs. Muslims can walk around in whatever religious gear they like, so why can’t I?”

Opinion: John Read

“Sadly for Jarvis, the force isn’t with him on this one. Although it is unlawful for the jobcentre to discriminate against anyone on the ground of their religion or beliefs, his chances of success are extremely low.

“The first reason is that although there’s no single definition of religion under discrimination law, in general terms they require a clear structure and belief system – something that, as an entirely fictitious film creation, Jediism would seem to lack.

“Although some might argue that all religions are fictitious, there’s a big difference between the organised structure of (for example) Christianity and a group of hooded, futuristic samurai in a science fiction movie.

“The second reason is that a belief system founded on Jediism is highly unlikely to constitute a protected philosophical belief. In its well-publicised decision on belief in climate change in 2009, the Employment Appeal Tribunal stated that a “belief in the supreme nature of the Jedi Knights” would fail at least four of the five limitations, drawn from previous case law, on what amounts to a belief.

“These state that the belief “must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance”, and “must be worthy of respect in a democratic society”.

“The apology letter from the jobcentre is, however, sadly indicative of the confusion that surrounds exactly what is and isn’t protected under current discrimination law.”

John Read is an employment law editor at XpertHR

After Jarvis wrote a letter of complaint to the jobcentre, manager Wendy Flowers replied with an apology. “We are committed to provide a customer service which embraces diversity and respects customers’ religion,” she wrote.

This is not the first time Jedis have hit the headlines. Last September, Daniel Jones, the founder of the International Church of Jedi, accused Tesco of religious discrimination when he was asked to leave his local branch in Wales, after refusing to lower his hood.

Tesco’s memorable response was: “Obi-Wan Kenobi, Yoda and Luke Skywalker all appeared hoodless without ever going over to the Dark Side and we are only aware of the Emperor as one who never removed his hood.”

The stories reflect the range of beliefs people are citing in claims, according to Lisa Patmore, partner at law firm Pinsent Masons. “Increasingly, it is being argued that these kind of bizarre beliefs are protected by legislation,” she told Personnel Today.

Last November, a tribunal ruled that police employee Alan Power, who alleged he was sacked for believing psychics could solve crimes, was not discriminated against.

Also in November, the judge in the Grainger v Nicholson case ruled that an employee’s environmental views should be classed as a belief and therefore protected under the Employment Equality (Religion or Belief) Regulations 2003.

Although Jedis are not covered by the forthcoming Equality Bill, HR professionals have told Personnel Today that they remain bewildered as to what counts and does not count as a protected belief.

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