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Ethical Veganism Protected against Discrimination

View profile for Kayleigh Howarth
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A philosophical belief is a "protected characteristic" under the Equality Act 2010.  It is unlawful to discriminate against an individual because of their philosophical belief.  There is a five-point criteria to be met in order to decide whether or not a particular belief falls under the definition in the Equality Act:

  • The belief must be genuinely held.
  • It must be a belief and not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available.
  • It must be a belief as to a weight and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.
  • It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.
  • It must be worth of respect in a democratic society, and compatible with human dignity and the fundamental rights of others.

In 2019 it was decided in Conisbee v Crossley Farms and others, vegetarianism in this case did not meet the criteria to be considered a philosophical belief and therefore was not a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

Judge Postle stated that "there are many vegetarians across the world, however, the reason for being a vegetarian differs greatly among themselves, unlike veganism where the reasons for being a vegan appear to be largely the same".

                                           

It was decided this month by the Norwich Employment Tribunal in Mr J Casamitjana Costa v The League against Cruel Sports that ethical veganism can amount to a philosophical belief and therefore can be protected under the Equality Act 2010.

Mr Casamitjana Costa (the Claimant) was a qualified zoologist and dedicated his life to helping animals in need.  He has worked in animal protection for the majority of his working life.  Mr Casamitjana Costa became a vegan in 2000 and his transition to a strict vegan diet happened instantly. The Claimant stopped consuming all animal products and also discarded of clothes that contained animal products.  Within a few months of the Claimant deciding to become vegan, he had removed all objects that he possessed which related to animal products from his home.

Judge Postle, the same Employment Judge who heard the case on vegetarianism, commented that ethical veganism is not just about choices of diet, but about choices relating to other aspects of daily life such as what a person wears, what personal care products he or she uses, their hobbies and their careers. In this case, the Claimant goes as far, when the ingredients on food labels are not clear, to contact the food manufacturers to check whether their food is genuinely vegan. The Judge noted the various ways in which ethical veganism has become integrated within the Claimants life such as avoiding sitting on leather seats or holding leather straps; refraining from living with any companion animal; not allowing any non-vegan food to be brought into his home; avoiding using bank notes, particularly the new ones which have been manufactured using animal products as well as avoiding dating any individual who does not share his views on veganism.

This is an important case for all those who consider themselves to be ethical vegans as it may be the case they will also be offered protection from discrimination under the Equality Act 2010. However, it is important to note that in cases such as this not all those who identify as following a particular philosophical belief will be protected from discrimination as there are specific criteria which need to be met.  It may also be the case that those who consider themselves to be a 'dietary vegan' may not be afforded this protection for similar reasons which were set out in the case of Conisbee v Crossley Farms.

If you have any concerns about philosophical beliefs or discrimination in the workplace do not hesitate to contact a member of our Employment Team on 01522 814638.

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