An employment tribunal will next year decide if “ethical veganism” is a philosophical belief in a case involving a man who claims he was discriminated against by his employer, the League Against Cruel Sports.
Jordi Casamitjana, a zoologist specialising in animal behaviour, says he was sacked as head of policy and research because he is an ethical vegan – veganism where the decision not to eat animal produce is an ethical choice rather than purely a health or dietary matter.
The animal rights campaign group, which believes it is probably one of the most vegan-friendly employers, says Casamitjana was dismissed for gross misconduct.
The discussion about veganism being a ‘philosophical belief’ is a thought-provoking one which many of our staff will be interested in – however this debate has absolutely no connection with why Mr Casamitjana was sacked” – The League Against Cruel Sports
If successful, the case will protect ethical vegans from discrimination on the grounds of their belief.
Casamitjana claims he was dismissed by the League after he raised concerns that its pension fund invested in companies that tested on animals. As a result of his disclosures, he claims he was unfairly disciplined and that the decision to dismiss him was reached because of his belief in ethical veganism.
Peter Daly, the Bindmans lawyer acting for Casamitjana, said: “The tests for determining whether a belief reaches the required threshold for protection from discrimination are well established but they are exacting.
“It is our view that the tests are comfortably met by a belief in ethical veganism and that Mr Casamitjana’s personal belief is sufficiently strong to achieve that protection.”
Veganism as a belief
The Equality and Human Rights Commission makes clear in its guidance that veganism is a philosophical belief. It is a “genuinely held belief and not just opinion, in respect of a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour which are worthy of respect in a democratic society”.
A League spokesperson said: “The discussion about veganism being a ‘philosophical belief’ is a thought-provoking one which many of our staff will be interested in – however this debate has absolutely no connection with why Mr Casamitjana was sacked.
“It’s sad that one of our former employees, who is passionate about protecting animals, is now trying to bring into disrepute a charity which is not only one of the most important pro-animal voices in this country, but also no doubt one of the most vegan-friendly employers.
“Mr Casamitjana was dismissed from his position because of gross misconduct, and to link his dismissal with issues pertaining to veganism is factually wrong. Mr Casamitjana is seeking to use his veganism as the reason for his dismissal and bring an employment tribunal against the organisation. We emphatically reject this claim.”
Casamitjana said: “Although the manner in which I was dismissed was intensely distressing for me, some good may come of it if I am able to establish this valuable protection for all ethical vegans. The hearing in March is not, first and foremost, about my dismissal, but is about the status of ethical veganism as a protected philosophical belief. If we are successful in that hearing, we will then proceed to a hearing on the specifics of my dismissal.”
For many people, veganism is a deeply held belief, however we regularly hear from vegans who have suffered some form of discrimination. This case has the capacity to improve the recognition of ethical veganism as a coherent, developed and increasingly well supported philosophy, and also to confirm that the needs of vegans in their employment and their everyday lives must be taken seriously” – Louise Davies, the Vegan Society
Rhys Wyborn, partner of Geldards which is representing the League at the tribunal, said: “The claimant in this case was dismissed for gross misconduct and for failing to follow express management instructions that were given to him.
“After due process, the Claimant was fairly dismissed for his actions. This had nothing to do with his beliefs, protected or otherwise. In view of the lack of service to bring an ordinary unfair dismissal claim, the claimant is making a desperate attempt to link his fair dismissal to his stated belief in ‘ethical veganism’, which the League Against Cruel Sports categorically refutes.”
Louise Davies of the Vegan Society, which is supporting Casamitjana’s case, said: “Although we do not usually support legal cases, and we are not in a position to take a view on the specifics of Mr Casamitjana’s dismissal by his former employer, we see the philosophical belief aspect of his case as being something of universal benefit to all vegans. We are therefore very happy to support it.
“For many people, veganism is a deeply held belief, however we regularly hear from vegans who have suffered some form of discrimination. This case has the capacity to improve the recognition of ethical veganism as a coherent, developed and increasingly well supported philosophy, and also to confirm that the needs of vegans in their employment and their everyday lives must be taken seriously.”
In October, Waitrose Food magazine editor William Sitwell stepped down from his post after it was revealed he had joked about “killing vegans” and “force-feeding them meat” to a freelance journalist.
Casamitjana’s employment tribunal hearing against the League is scheduled for 13-14 March 2019.