Supporting a particular football team cannot be considered a philosophical belief worthy of protection under the Equality Act, an employment tribunal has ruled.
Mr McClung, a lifelong supporter of Glasgow Rangers Football Club, brought a claim for unfair dismissal and discrimination because of religion or belief against Doosan Babcock, a company that provides construction and servicing in the energy sector, and recruitment consultancy NRL.
The claimant, a subcontractor, carried out work for Doosan Babcock via NRL between January and June 2019. He alleged that a manager, who was a Celtic fan, did not offer him later work due to his support of the rival Glasgow team.
McClung claimed that his support of Rangers was so strong and such an intrinsic part of his existence that it was akin to a philosophical belief.
He has supported the team for 42 years and spends most of his disposable income on attending games, considering his support for the team a “massive” part of his life that has created memories with his father and son. He receives a birthday card from the football club each year.
He told the tribunal hearing in June that supporting Rangers is a way of life and it was as important to him as it was for Christians to attend church.
He added that he supported some of the philosophies that came with being a Rangers fan, including allegiance to the Queen, support for the UK union, support for Northern Ireland to remain part of the UK and some involvement in the Orange Order or attending marches.
Doosan Babcock’s lawyer acknowledged that McClung was clearly a devoted fan, but argued that supporting Rangers was merely “support” and not a philosophical belief. She claimed that supporting a football team should be treated in a manner similar to the support of a political party.
In making its decision, the tribunal panel considered the legal test for philosophical belief that was set out in the Nicholson v Grainger case. To meet this threshold, a person’s belief must be genuinely held; not an opinion or viewpoint; must be a substantial aspect of human life and behaviour; must have a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance; and must be worthy of respect in a democratic society and must not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
It found that McClung’s support for Rangers did not meet the second, third, fourth or fifth criteria. However, it agreed his support for the team was genuinely held.
In her judgment, Employment Judge Lusy Wiseman said: “I considered support for a football club to be akin to a lifestyle choice, rather than relating to a substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.
“Support for Rangers Football Club does not amount to a philosophical belief within the meaning of section 10(2) of the Equality Act 2010, and cannot be relied upon by the claimant as a protected characteristic for the purposes of claiming discrimination under the Equality Act.”
Since McClung was a subcontractor, his unfair dismissal claim was rejected at a preliminary hearing last year.
McClung told the Daily Record that he would appeal the decision in his philosophical belief claim.
Kate Palmer, HR advice and consultancy director at HR support service Peninsula, said that despite the ruling, employers should ensure they treat all workers equally, regardless of any personal attributes, to avoid the risks of tribunal claims.
“There’s been a long list of claims for protection under the philosophical belief argument. Ethical veganism, spiritualism, Scottish independence, and a belief in never lying are all considered philosophical beliefs, but the employment tribunal has found that being a Rangers fan is not,” she said.
“The tribunal found that while Mr McClung is a genuine Rangers fan, it should be classed as support and a lifestyle choice rather than a belief. The judge ruled that the ways in which the claimant manifested being a fan were all matters personal to him, i.e. they are subjectively important and not necessarily important to the masses.
“The judge also said that while support of Rangers is worthy of respect in a democratic society, it does not reach the level required to be a protected belief in same way as religion.”