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A discrimination claim has been issued based on the argument that veganism is a “philosophical belief” and qualifies for protection from discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.
Jordi Casamitjana, a zoologist specialising in animal behaviour, was dismissed by the Surrey-based League Against Cruel Sports (LACS) after making a report to management and informing other employees that the organisation was investing pension funds in animal testing companies. Mr Casamitjana claims he was dismissed for being an “ethical vegan”. LACS have emphatically rejected this and say he was dismissed for gross misconduct.
An “ethical vegan”, as well as abstaining from the use of animal products in their diet, avoids all forms of animal exploitation, such as wearing leather clothing or buying products connected to animal testing. Mr Casamitjana told reporters that “some people only eat a vegan diet, but they don’t care about the environment or the animals, they only care about their health. I care about the animals and the environment and my health and everything”.
The case has stimulated press interest and is being hyped as a landmark development, as the courts have never ruled on whether veganism can be a protected philosophical belief. However, this is unlikely to be a landmark case. Ethical veganism is certainly capable of amounting to a protected philosophical belief.
However, being a vegan alone will not amount to a protected characteristic. The vegan diet must fall within a set of beliefs about animal rights or environmentalism that carries the level of clarity and seriousness required to be a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010. The courts have previously confirmed that a belief in man-made climate change and the proper and efficient use of public money in the public sector can both qualify as philosophical beliefs, so it would be very surprising if Mr Casamitjana’s fervent ethical veganism did not.
The problem for Mr Casamitjana lies not in proving that he has a protected characteristic, but in proving that he suffered discrimination. Dismissing an employee for disclosing pension scheme investments to management and other employees could feasibly be unfair dismissal, but it is very different to dismissing someone on the grounds of their philosophical belief. Direct discrimination – where an employee is treated less favourably than someone else because of their protected characteristic – can be difficult to establish, as it only applies where the protected characteristic causes the treatment, not other surrounding factors.
The dismissal is also unlikely to be indirect discrimination, which is where a ‘provision, criterion or practice’ (PCP) causes a particular disadvantage to a group of employees sharing a protected characteristic. Assuming that a rule of “don’t complain about or disclose information relating to pension fund investments” could qualify as a PCP, it is still difficult to see how this rule would put vegans at a particular disadvantage.
It remains to be seen how this case will develop. There will be an initial hearing next March to determine the issue of whether Mr Casamitjana’s “ethical vegan” beliefs amount to a protected philosophical belief. If he is successful on this point, a further hearing will determine whether or not his dismissal was discriminatory.
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