Ethical Veganism and Discrimination Law
The media have given much attention to Casamitjana v the League Against Cruel Sports, a ‘landmark case’ in which ethical veganism was treated as a philosophical belief under the Equality Act 2010. What does the case decide, and what are its implications?
What is Ethical Veganism?
‘Dietary vegans’ exclude all animal products from their diet. ‘Ethical vegans‘ go further than this and exclude animal products from all aspects of their lives. This includes avoiding food, clothes and even travel methods which use animal products or is likely to harm animals. Ethical vegans usually believe that it is morally wrong to treat other species worse than human beings in any respect.
Background to Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports
Mr Casamitjana is an ethical vegan who was employed by the League Against Cruel Sports (LACS). He discovered that the workplace pension funds were being invested in non-vegan companies. This was despite the pension provider offering alternative, vegan-compliant schemes. When LACS did not act on his complaints, he informed his colleagues of his problems with the pension funds.
Senior management of LACS were not pleased with Mr Casamitjana telling his colleagues that the pension funds were non-vegan-compliant. They argued that he should not be providing financial advice to other employees, and dismissed him for gross misconduct. Mr Casamitjana brought claims for discrimination and victimisation under the Equality Act 2010.
The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination on the grounds of ‘religion or belief‘. Employers cannot sack employees because of their religious or philosophical beliefs, or because they act in accordance with those beliefs.
Not any ‘belief’ will do, however. For a belief to qualify for protection, it must meet the requirements set out in Grainger v Nicholson.
For example, a previous case had held that vegetarianism did not meet these criteria. People are vegetarians for different reasons, making it hard to argue that vegetarianism is a cogent and cohesive belief system. The main issue here was whether ethical veganism met the Grainger criteria, and so qualified as a protected ‘belief’.
What Did the Judge Decide?
The written judgment in this case has yet to be released, so we do not know the tribunal’s full, exact reasoning. However, it is known that Judge Robin Postle decided that Mr Casamitjana’s ethical veganism met all five Grainger criteria.
Mr Casamitjana plainly genuinely held the belief that he should not use animal products. The implications of this belief permeated every aspect of his life, so it was a belief relating to an important aspect of human life. The judge also accepted Mr Casamitjana’s argument that ethical veganism promotes democracy, and so is worthy of respect. What the judge said about the fourth criteria is not known, other than that ethical veganism was sufficiently serious, cogent and cohesive.
Since this case was merely a preliminary hearing, it is not a yet complete victory for Mr Casamitjana. The tribunal has yet to hold that Mr Casamitjana was actually victimised or discriminated against. This is significant because LACS argue that the reason they dismissed Mr Casamitjana was not connected to his veganism. Assuming that the parties do not settle in the meantime, there will be another hearing on this point.
Implications of this Case
This case, if it sticks, would have far reaching implications. Companies and service providers would be obliged in many cases provide customers and employees vegan substitutes. For example, an employer might have to provide vegan furniture and cafeteria options. It may even lead to judicial review of the Bank of England’s decision to continue using tallow (a by-product of animal fat) in banknotes.
Since these implications are serious, this decision is likely to be revisited in future cases. It should be noted that this was a first-instance tribunal decision, and so of little authoritative value. There will likely be appeals to higher courts, and the Upper Tribunal or High Court may take a different view.
A key point for future cases is whether ethical veganism is sufficiently cogent or coherent: this was the hurdle which vegetarianism fell at. Since the judge’s reasoning on this point is not known, it is difficult to predict whether his conclusions will stand.
The lasting impact of this case, therefore, remains to be seen.