Tribunal to decide whether ethical veganism is a ‘philosophical belief’

Animal rights activists take part in a march in Manhattan in 2017.

A hearing has begun at an employment tribunal that will decide whether ethical veganism should be protected under discrimination law – the result of which could have major ramifications for organisations. 

Jordi Casamitjana, a vegan activist and animal rights campaigner, will argue that his former employer’s decision to dismiss him amounted to discrimination. He claimed that he lost his job, at animal welfare charity the League Against Cruel Sports, after he informed other employees that its pension fund invested in firms involved in animal testing.

At a hearing at the Norwich Employment Tribunal on 2 and 3 January, he will argue that ethical veganism is a philosophical belief and should be protected under the Equality Act 2010. A subsequent hearing in February will consider his employment dispute.

Casamitjana said: “I am an ethical vegan. This involves much more than just not eating food with animal ingredients, it’s a philosophy and a belief system which encompasses most aspects of my life.”

Casamitjana adheres to a 100% vegan diet, participates in animal protection marches and demonstrations and buys only clothes and products he can be sure are free from animal-derived products or tested on animals.

Slater and Gordon employment lawyer Peter Daly, who is representing Casamitjana, said: “Ethical veganism is a philosophical belief held by a significant and growing portion of the population in the UK and around the world. This case, if successful, will establish that the belief entitles ethical vegans protection from discrimination. The case we have prepared sets out how the belief in principle, and how Jordi’s particular interpretations of it, comprehensively meet the required legal test.”

A spokesperson for the Casamitjana’s former employer said: “The League Against Cruel Sports is an inclusive employer and because this is a hearing to decide whether veganism should be a protected status, something which the League does not contest, it would be inappropriate for us to comment further.”

Earlier this year, research by Crossland Employment Solicitors found that 24% of employers showed a lack of understanding of veganism, with many believing it was a lifestyle or dietary choice rather than a genuine belief in animal welfare or the protection of the environment.

The research also considered the experiences of vegan employees in the workplace; 45% believed they had been discriminated against because they were vegans, 96% had to sit on leather furniture at work and 86% had to use soap in workplace toilets that had been tested on animals.

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One Response to Tribunal to decide whether ethical veganism is a ‘philosophical belief’

  1. Avatar
    Devan Maistry 2 Jan 2020 at 11:42 am #

    The Court of Appeal in England suggests that establishing a philosophical belief may be pointless.

    In Maistry v BBC a belief in BBC Values was found to be a philosophical belief (EJ Pauline Hughes 29 March 2011, Birmingham 1313142/2010). However, Lord Justice Underhill in finally disposing of the matter (Maistry v BBC [2014] EWCA Civ 1116 (9 July 2014) found that for discrimination to be possible the alleged discriminator must be aware that such a belief is held by the claimant as a philosophical belief.Here is the crucial passage from the judgment.

    “13. The Applicant’s essential answer, as I have said, is that it was impossible that the individuals in question could have been unaware of his belief in BBC values given that they are pervasive in the BBC, and perhaps also because he had, in the case of the disputes which gave rise to the acts of complaint or acts complained of, referred to those values, as the Tribunal acknowledged in the passage that I have read. But I am afraid to say that I do not believe that it is arguable that a generalised assumption that senior management employees will subscribe to BBC values can be equated with the knowledge that a particular employee has a philosophical belief in those values. That is not the same thing. The fact that to the applicant those values constituted a belief with similar status and cogency to a religious belief does not mean that will be so in every case. To others it might indeed be no more than their employer’s mission statement about the values that they were expected to observe at work.”

    If the Court of Appeal reasoning in Maistry v BBC is followed Mr Casamitjana must prove his employers knew he held a philosophical belief in veganism at the time of his dismissal. This is impossible as such a belief can only be established under cross-examination by a tribunal . The Underhill decision appears to be a deeply cynical application of the law. Hopefully the vegan case will provide some clarity.

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