20/11/2019

Employment Tribunal rules Vegetarianism is not a belief for purposes of Equality Act 2010

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A Waiter lost his claim for discrimination on the grounds of religion or belief after claiming he had been discriminated against by his employer for being a vegetarian.

Jade Linton of Thursfields Solicitors explores the law relating to religion and belief and examines what an Employment Tribunal might consider in order to determine whether a belief amounts to a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010.

The Law

Religion or belief is one of nine “protected characteristics” covered by the Equality Act 2010 (“the Act”). The other protected characteristics are age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, sex and sexual orientation.

The Act describes “Belief” as any religious or philosophical belief and a reference to belief includes a lack of belief.

Direct religion or belief discrimination occurs where, because of religion or belief a person (A) treats another (B) less favourably than A treats or would treat others.

Direct discrimination cannot be justified, but an employer might be able to rely on an exception to avoid liability, such as pointing to an occupational requirement.

The Employment Appeals Tribunal (“EAT”) gave guidance on the definition of philosophical belief which included but was not limited to the descriptions below:

  • The belief must be genuinely held.
  • It must be a belief, not an opinion or viewpoint based on the present state of information available.
  • It must be a belief as to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.
  • It must be worthy of respect in a democratic society, not be incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.
  • It must attain a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance.
  • It must “have a similar status or cogency to a religious belief”. However, it need not “allude to a fully-fledged system of thought”.
  • It need not be shared by others.
  • A belief in a political philosophy or doctrine, such as Socialism, Marxism or free-market Capitalism, might qualify.
  • A philosophical belief may be based on science. If Creationism (which is based on faith) is protected, Darwinism (which is based on science) “must plainly be capable of being a philosophical belief”.
The Facts

In Conisbee v Crossley Farms Ltd and others ET/3335357/2018 (10 September 2019) The Tribunal heard how Mr Conisbee resigned from his employment as a Waiter with Crossley Farms Ltd after 5 months of employment.

Mr Conisbee alleged (amongst other things) discrimination on the ground of religion or belief contrary to the Act, his belief being vegetarianism. At a preliminary hearing, an employment tribunal, using the guidance given by the EAT concluded that this belief did not qualify for protection under the Act.

The Decision

The Tribunal concluded that whilst it was clear Mr Conisbee’s belief in vegetarianism was  his opinion and view point that the world would be a better place if animals were not killed for food, the belief alone (whilst an ‘admirable sentiment’) was not enough to have an opinion based on some real, or perceived, logic.

The Tribunal did accept that there were many vegetarians across the world; however, felt the reason for being a vegetarian differed greatly amongst those individuals, unlike veganism where the Tribunal felt the reasons for being a vegan appeared to be largely the same thus having a clear cogency and cohesion as opposed to vegetarianism which has “numerous, differing and wide varying” reasons for adopting the practise.

 Comment

An interesting case and one which is bound to raise some questions and debate amongst those who by virtue of their belief in vegetarianism consider it to be a belief worthy of protection under the Act. It was clear that the variation in reasons for holding the belief differed so much as to prevent it from having a certain level of cogency and cohesion. Had it not been for this it is probable the belief may have crossed this hurdle.  In any event, the belief as it is currently held was not found to concern human life and behaviour but was rather held to be more of a lifestyle choice thus not satisfying the guidance from the EAT that in order to be protected by the Act a belief must concern a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour.

This decision is not binding on other Tribunals but nevertheless provides some indication of how a Tribunal is likely to approach claims about religion or belief discrimination based on vegetarianism.

If you feel you are an Employer defending a claim for discrimination or feel you have been discriminated against by your Employer please contact Jade Linton on 0121 796 4024 or jlinton@thursfields.co.uk

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Thursfields Legal Limited is authorised and regulated by the Solicitors Regulation Authority in England and Wales. Registered number 08829685.

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