Legal Issues

Employment Tribunal to determine if Ethical Veganism is a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010.

55 year old vegan zoologist seeks landmark ruling outlawing vegan discrimination in a case involving an animal welfare charity

A vegan Zoologist is preparing for an Employment Tribunal Hearing on 2nd and 3rd January in the UK which he hopes will decide that Ethical Veganism is a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010. His aim is to secure a landmark ruling that “Ethical Vegans” are legally protected from discrimination on the basis of their beliefs – in other words, that vegan discrimination will be clearly shown to be illegal.

The test case will decide whether or not such beliefs are indeed “protected” for the purpose of the Act in a similar manner to a religious belief.

Jordi Casamitjana, 55, was sacked by the League Against Cruel Sports (the LACS) after he revealed to other workers that the organisation’s pension funds had invested in companies such as certain pharmaceutical and tobacco companies which were known to engage in animal testing. This was very embarrassing for an animal welfare organisation, and after discussions with LACS, the organisation agreed that it would provide him with an alternative ethical fund. However, it was only one alternative fund, whose rates of return were not competitive.

Casamitjana sent an email to the staff with details of the matter and was promptly sacked. In the employee rulebook was a prohibition on providing financial advice to colleagues. 

Whistleblower

Casamitjana is, therefore, a whistleblower. It is a bizarre paradox that this case of all cases should involve taking action against an animal welfare charity. He sincerely believes that “donors to animal protection charities have the right to expect that the money they donate will be invested in a way which is compatible with their beliefs”. For a charitable fund to invest in companies that test on animals is “a betrayal of the trust placed in those charities by their donors”.

“I am an Ethical Vegan,” says Mr Casamitjana who is originally from Catalonia and resident in the UK for twenty-six years. He has followed this commitment for over 17 years. “This involves much more than just not eating food with animal ingredients. It’s a philosophy and a belief system which encompasses most aspects of my life.” As such he neither eats nor wears nor consumes any animal products.

There is no doubting the whistleblower’s commitment to Ethical Veganism. His CV includes working on successful prosecutions under the Hunting Act 2004 (on behalf of LACS), the exposé of trail hunting as a false alibi and working in the campaign that led to the ban on bullfighting in Catalonia.

According to Casamitjana, LACS has now formally conceded that Ethical Veganism is a protected philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010. But this is not enough for the Catalan campaigner.

The case is a complex one and Casamitjana is crowdfunding for his very significant legal costs.

Seeking a legal precedent of that ethical vegans cannot be discriminated against

His legal team is pushing for a “clear and reasoned written judgment” explaining why Ethical Veganism meets the legal tests for a protected philosophical belief.  This will serve as some kind of precedent for others, even if it is not legally binding. The Tribunal is unlikely to recognise a new protected philosophical belief lightly. His team has compiled over a thousand pages of evidence and has prepared witness statements to put the issues into context.  The witnesses include a vegan legal expert as well as an Oxford University professor of moral philosophy. 

Whilst judgments in an Employment Tribunal are not binding, they are persuasive and may later be followed by other courts and tribunals. If the case one day goes to appeal by either side, then the subsequent ruling of the Employment Appeal Tribunal would have binding precedent.

LACS’ original position is that the dismissal was for “gross misconduct”. Its claim is that the whistleblower’s actions were “biased because of your ethical principles and could influence [other employees] to change their pension arrangement”. 

Peter Daly of the law firm Slater Gordon will argue that the LACS’ recognition of his client’s ethical veganism as a “genuinely held belief” needs to be taken further. He will argue that this philosophical belief is held by a significant number of people in the UK and worldwide, and is deserving of protection from discrimination.  

Daly believes that the belief in principle meets the legal requirement, and that “Jordi’s particular interpretations of it, comprehensively meet the required legal test”.

The written evidence for the pre-hearing has been made public at the Tribunal’s direction. This is separate from the full hearing which will subsequently determine the merits of how Casamitjana was treated in the dismissal.

The Equality Act 2010 protects people against workplace discrimination based on characteristics including age and disability. The Act has nine ‘protected characteristics’ including ‘Religion or belief’.

The legal reach of veganism is increasingly being refined in law. In May 2019 a firefighter in Ontario sued his employers on the basis that not being provided with adequate vegan food during gruelling work over a period of several days amounted to a breach of his human rights.

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Nicholas Orosz

Nicholas is a former City solicitor and Cambridge graduate. He has a long-standing interest in health & nutrition, the environmental movement, green politics & digital publishing. He has always loved crafting words. His transition to a vegan perspective has been gradual and an ongoing process of self-discovery. Contact: nicholas@vegansbethechange.com
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