Although the judgementis yet to be published, it has been reported that the Employment Tribunal in the case of Casamitiana v The League Against Cruel Sports has held that ethical veganism amounts to a philosophical belief and is therefore a 'protected characteristic' under the Equality Act 2010.
For background details of the case and information on the test to be applied when determining what constitutes a philosophical belief under the Equality Act, see our previous blog.
Mr Casamitiana made a clear distinction in his claim between 'health vegans' who focus on following a plant-based diet for lifestyle reasons and 'ethical vegans'. Ethical veganism he stated was different because: "at its heart lies a moral imperative, namely the recognition of non-human animals as sentient beings it is moral wrong to exploit or harm." Mr Casamitiana, for example, refuses to use any product made from 'animal exploitation', such as leather; and avoids catching buses due to the potential for the vehicle to accidentally collide with insects or birds.
As this case related to an individual who identified as an ethical vegan and the employment tribunal's reasoning is yet to be published, it is not yet clear whether dietary or 'health vegans' would be able to show that their belief met the necessary criteria for protection. Recently another employment tribunal held that vegetarianism was not protected as a philosophical belief. See our previous blog for more information.
The Tribunal is yet to decide on the fairness of Mr Casamitiana's dismissal and whether he was treated less favourably because of his belief in ethical veganism.
This is a first instance decision, which means that it does not have to be followed in future by tribunals. Also, whether a belief is protected under the Equality Act will depend on the particular facts and whether, and to what extent, the belief affects how the individual lives their life. However, it does highlight the importance of respecting ethical vegan beliefs in the workplace and the potential protection against discrimination, victimisation and harassment under the Equality Act available to those who identify as ethical vegans.
If you would like to discuss anything raised in this blog, please get in touch with your usual Brodies contact.