Vegan Sues Employer For Discrimination

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Vegan discrimination claims

An employment tribunal is set to decide whether veganism should be a “protected characteristic,” affording vegans special legal safeguards against discrimination in the workplace and beyond.

Jordi Casamitjana is seeking to bring a case against his former employer, The League Against Cruel Sports, claiming workplace discrimination on the basis of veganism. The coming ruling in the “landmark case” could vastly expand vegans’ ability to fight against discrimination through the justice system.

Mr. Casamitjana says he was sacked by the League Against Cruel Sports after flagging concerns that its pension fund was being invested into companies involved in animal testing. He first drew this to the attention of company managers but was then fired for telling other employees after no action was taken to divest the funds.

The League Against Cruel Sports “emphatically reject[s]” the claim that they fired their employee because of his veganism, holding rather that he was dismissed for gross misconduct. A spokesperson for the charity said on the matter: “To link [Mr. Casamitjana’s] dismissal with issues pertaining to veganism is factually wrong.”

If on the facts, the tribunal decides that the charity worker was fired for his veganism, it will then need to decide as a point of law if veganism qualifies as a philosophical belief.

If classified this way, veganism could then become a legally protected characteristic under the umbrella category of ‘religion or belief’, with vegans afforded anti-discriminatory protections under the Equality Act 2010.

Ruling could expand employers’ duty to protect vegan workers

"Religion or belief" is one of nine "protected characteristics" covered by the Equality Act 2010.

Other characteristics include age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, sex and sexual orientation. Employers are forbidden by law from discriminating against workers on the basis of these characteristics.

This covers all direct discrimination, whereby employers treat some employees less favourably than others specifically on the basis of a protected characteristic.

It also includes indirect discrimination, whereby an employer implements a policy or workplace practice which indirectly disadvantages employees of a certain, protected group – although this may be legal in some cases if there is sound, objective justification for the policy.

In addition, it is against the law to harass or victimise anyone on the grounds of religion or belief.

A ruling recognising veganism as a belief could therefore expand employers’ duties to consider the needs to vegan workers in the workplace – protecting employees from harassment on the basis of their belief, providing vegan meal options in some cases and making sure that the needs of vegan employees are properly met.

Distinction made between dietary and ethical veganism

Animal rights and vegan campaigners say that a ruling in favour of protecting veganism would improve the lives of thousands of vegan workers across Britain.

Louise Davies of the Vegan Society says:

"This could be a landmark ruling that will not only recognise the validity and importance of veganism but also confirm that the needs of vegans in their employment and their everyday lives must be taken seriously."

The Vegan Society estimates that there are now 600,000 vegans living in Britain – a steep increase from just 150,000 in 2014.

Mr, Casamitjana’s legal claim however acknowledges a distinction between dietary veganism and ethical veganism. The former charity worker argues that whilst dietary veganism is simply an eating habit, “ethical veganism” goes beyond a way of eating and encompasses a whole philosophy regarding the rights and dignity of animals.

“For me veganism is a belief and affects every single aspect of my life," he says.

In law, a belief differs from an opinion on the basis that it is not liable to change based on new information. To qualify as a protected belief, a belief must be genuinely held, pertain to a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour and be sufficiently cogent, serious, cohesive and important. It must also be worthy of respecting in a democratic society, meaning it must be compatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others.

Contact our employment law solicitors for expert advice

If you think you have been the subject of discrimination at work, or if you have received a claim against you for discrimination, then call us today on 03456 381381, or email your details to employment@ibblaw.co.uk.