Vegans could win protection under UK anti-discrimination law if a landmark hearing underway today rules that an anti-meat activist was unfairly sacked for his ‘religious or philosophical beliefs’.
Jordi Casamitjana claims he was dismissed from his job at the League Against Cruel Sports after raising concerns that its pension fund was being invested into companies involved in animal testing.
He claims he was unfairly disciplined for making this disclosure and that the decision to dismiss him was because of his philosophical belief in ethical veganism.
Jordi Casamitjana claims he was dismissed from his job at the League Against Cruel Sports after raising concerns that its pension fund was being invested into companies involved in animal testing
As part of his work with the campaign group, Mr Casamitjana protested against ‘cruel’ sports like foxhunting (pictured)
Dietary vegans and ethical vegans both eat a plant-based diet, but ethical vegans also try to exclude all forms of animal exploitation including not wearing clothing made of wool or leather and not using products tested on animals.
Mr Casamitjana’s lawyers said ethical veganism satisfies the tests required for it to be a philosophical or religious belief, which would mean it was protected under the Equality Act 2010.
What is the difference between ethical veganism and dietary veganism?
Dietary vegans and ethical vegans both eat a plant-based diet, avoiding meat and other foods derived from animals such as dairy products.
However ethical vegans also try to exclude all forms of animal exploitation outside what they eat.
This includes not wearing clothing made of wool or leather and not using products tested on animals.
For a belief to be protected under the Act, it must meet a series of tests including being worthy of respect in a democratic society, not being incompatible with human dignity and not conflicting with fundamental rights of others.
Slater and Gordon solicitor Peter Daly, who is acting for Mr Casamitjana, said ‘ethical veganism is a philosophical belief held by a significant portion of the population in the UK and around the world’.
‘This case, if successful, will establish that the belief entitles ethical vegans to protection from discrimination. The case we have prepared sets out how the belief in principle, and how Jordi’s particular interpretations of it, meet the required legal test,’ Mr Daly said in a statement.
When he initially brought the case, Mr Casamitjana said the hearing was not primarily about his dismissal, but about establishing ethical veganism as a philosophical belief.
The campaigner is originally from Catalonia, but has lived in the UK for 26 years. He doesn’t date people who aren’t vegans and won’t allow any animal products into his home
How could veganism be protected under the Equality Act?
The Equality Act 2010 spells out nine ‘protected characteristics’ which it is illegal to discriminate against.
As well as religious belief, they are: age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage or civil partnership, pregnancy or maternity, race, sex and sexual orientation.
If a belief meets the criteria it is illegal to discriminate against someone because they hold that belief.
The law applies to a wide range of fields including employment, education and housing.
The legislation says that a philosophical belief must be:
- Genuinely held
- A belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available
- A belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour
- Attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance
- Be worthy of respect in a democratic society, compatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others
‘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.
‘If we are successful in that hearing, we will then proceed to a hearing on the specifics of my dismissal.’
But the League Against Cruel Sports said it sacked Mr Casamitjana for ‘gross misconduct’.
In a statement to the BBC, it said: ‘The League Against Cruel Sports is an inclusive employer, and as 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.’
Today’s tribunal session will be an admin day, with the hearing due to open on Friday.
Recent cases fought under the 2010 Equality Act include a 21-year-old interior design graduate who won a £3,000 payout from bosses after they were found to have discriminated against her for being too young.
A panel will decide if veganism is a ‘philosophical or religious belief’ and thus protected in law
Other high-profile claims of discrimination have found their way into employment tribunals in recent years.
Last year, a GP has revealed he planned to quit medicine over an investigation by the doctors watchdog into claims he ‘discriminated’ against a Muslim woman for asking her to remove her veil.
Dr Keith Wolverson said he ‘politely’ asked the woman to take off the garment for patient safety reasons during a consultation last year because he was unable to hear her explain her sick daughter’s symptoms.
He was then ‘deeply upset’ when last week he received a letter from the General Medical Council, the professional regulator, informing him that he was subject to an inquiry over allegations of racial discrimination which could result in him being struck off.
And in 2013, a British Airways employee won a landmark legal battle to wear a crucifix at work after she was sent home for wearing one.
Nadia Eweida won a claim of religious discrimination against BA in the European Court of Human Rights in 2013 after being sent home for wearing a silver crucifix around her neck.
Her right to profess her religious belief should have trumped the airline’s powers to mould its image by imposing petty uniform rules on its staff, European judges declared.
Other high-profile claims of discrimination have found their way into employment tribunals in recent years. They include BA worker Nadia Eweida, (left) who was sent home for wearing a crucifix; and GP Dr Keith Wolverson (right) who asked a woman to remove her burka