The trouble with veganism …

Photo by Kylli Kittus on Toimetaja tõlkebüroo: https://toimetaja.eu/

… is that it’s shameful and un-Australian according to Scott Morrison, Prime Minister of that country. The Australian Premier spoke as the country witnessed nationwide protests by vegans (Some of whom chained themselves to abattoirs, amongst other things). The protesters are, of course, attempting by their actions to highlight the issue of cruelty to animals.

Mr Morrision’s remarks are certainly two of the more interesting descriptions (criticisms) of veganism that I’ve heard uttered recently.

In a number of previous Blogs, I’ve discussed the possibility of veganism being regarded as a philosophical belief capable of being legally protected in terms of the Equality Act 2010. At the time of writing, we still await the decision of the London Employment Tribunal in the matter of Casamitjana v the League Against Cruel Sports (which was lodged in late 2018) as to whether veganism should be a legally protected, philosophical belief.

A link to the story from Australia can be found on the BBC News website:

Vegan protests: ‘Un-Australian’ activists arrested, PM Morrison says

Scott Morrison rebukes animal rights activists after dozens are arrested in nationwide protests.

A special report by Peter Egan for Sky News raises serious considerations about veganism.

Egan, a British actor who was well known to audiences in the 1970s and 1980s, is now a prominent animal rights activist and I think it can be fairly implied that he probably thinks veganism is an ethical choice which should be capable of respect in a democratic society. After all, in 2011, the Employment Tribunal decided that an animal rights activist who believed in the sanctity of all animal and human life held protected, philosophical beliefs (anti-fox hunting beliefs) and should not be discriminated as a consequence of them (see Hashman v Milton Park (Dorset) Ltd (t/a Orchard Park) ET/3105555/2009).

A link to Egan’s report for Sky News can be found below:

https://news.sky.com/story/i-visited-a-dog-meat-market-the-horror-keeps-me-awake-at-night-11684081?

A link to the Hashman judgement can be found below:

https://uk.practicallaw.thomsonreuters.com/Link/Document/Blob/I42aa7bb90c5511e498db8b09b4f043e0.pdf?targetType=PLC-multimedia&originationContext=document&transitionType=DocumentImage&uniqueId=27215574-54b1-4c5f-b839-6b11ecab733a&contextData=(sc.Default)

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 8 April 2019

The shameful secret: the vegan butcher

Photo by Max Delsid on Unsplash

Readers of this Blog will be aware of several, previous entries discussing whether veganism could be considered as a philosophical belief capable of protection in terms of the Equality Act 2010.

The London Employment Tribunal will decide later this year if veganism as a belief system should be a legally protected characteristic (see Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports lodged in 2018).

What about an individual who has decided to become a vegan? Could this conflict directly with his occupation? BBC Scotland reported on such a story about a butcher who had a secret – he had become a vegan. It sounds like an April Fool joke, but apparently it’s completely true:

The butcher who went vegan in secret

Brian Kavanagh worked in the meat industry for about 15 years before becoming vegan

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 1 April 2019

Veganism = human cruelty?

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

Regular readers of this blog will be aware of my interest in philosophical beliefs and whether these are capable of protection in terms of the Equality Act 2010. It seems to be an area of law which is being developed on a fairly regular basis – often with pretty surprising results.

The Employment Tribunal decided, for example, in Hashman v Milton Park (Dorset) Ltd t/a Orchard Park ET /3105555/2009 that a belief in the sanctity of both human and animal life could constitute a legally protected philosophical belief.

Several of my previous entries have looked at whether veganism could be a philosophical belief. This issue could soon be decided by the outcome of an Employment Tribunal case lodged at the end of 2018 (Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports).

What about anti-veganism? To be honest I’d never heard of this before, but a story on Sky News caught my attention:

Veganism is human cruelty’: Protester eats raw pig’s head outside vegan festival

http://news.sky.com/story/protester-eats-raw-pigs-head-outside-vegan-festival-11674741

A YouTuber going by the name of Sv3rige ate a pig’s head outside Vegfest, a vegan festival in Brighton to draw attention to his belief that “veganism is human cruelty”.

Sv3rige’s explained his motivation to Sky News:

We did it – it was eight of us – because veganism is malnutrition and you can’t get over 15 nutrients from plants and some of us are ex-vegans who got sick because of it.”

A crass publicity stunt or a genuine attempt to highlight someone’s deeply held beliefs?

Food for thought indeed!

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 26 March 2019

Braveheart?

Photo by Petia Koleva on Unsplash

In a previous post published on 22 January 2019 (Philosophical beliefs (or you’d better believe it!), I drew attention to the ongoing of Employment Tribunal case of Christopher McEleny against the Ministry of Defence.

Mr McEleny is an SNP councillor for Inverclyde and some time ago he ran for the Party’s Deputy Leadership post. In his day job, Mr McEleny was employed as an electrician by the UK Ministry of Defence at one of its sites in Beith, Ayrshire.

When his employer found out that Mr McEleny was running for the Deputy Leadership post, he claims that was pulled in to a meeting and grilled about his views on Trident amongst other things. He also had his security clearance revoked and was suspended. Although he was reinstated, Mr McEleny later decided to leave his job with the MOD.

Mr McEleny brought a claim under Section 10 of the Equality Act 2010 alleging that he had suffered direct discrimination on the grounds of his philosophical beliefs i.e. his belief in Scottish independence as a concept which forms and influences many of his decisions in life.

At a Preliminary Hearing in July 2018, the Employment Tribunal Judge ruled that belief in Scottish independence could constitute a philosophical belief which was capable of being protected under the Equality Act 2010. It should be noted that Mr McEleny was able to demonstrate that many of the decisions that he makes and the ways in which he chooses to live his life are firmly based on his belief in Scottish independence. It is important to appreciate that him merely being a member of the SNP was not enough: you have demonstrate that you live by your beliefs.

The Ministry of Defence disagreed with this finding and appealed. Employment Tribunal Frances Eccles has now considered the appeal and has decided that a belief in Scottish independence can constitute a protected characteristic for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010.

Mr McEleny’s claim must still proceed to a full Employment Tribunal Hearing in which he will have to demonstrate that he was subjected to unlawful discrimination by reason of his philosophical beliefs.

A link to an article about the latest turn in Mr McEleny’s case can be found below:

https://www.holyrood.com/articles/news/judge-upholds-ruling-belief-independence-protected-under-equality-law-religion

Copyright – Seán J Crossan, 12 March 2019

Vegans should be punched in the face …

photo-1494331789569-f98601f1934f.jpg

Photo by Simon Matzinger at Unsplash

In a previous post (Philosophical beliefs) published on 22 January 2019, I noted that a person’s beliefs can be problematic as to whether they should be regarded as a protected characteristic in terms of Sections 4 and 10 of the Equality Act 2010.

What about veganism? The Vegan Society defines its core beliefs in the following terms:

Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing and any other purpose, and by extension, promotes the development and use of animal-free alternatives for the benefit of humans, animals and the environment. In dietary terms it denotes the practice of dispensing with all products derived wholly or partly from animals.”

Taken from: https://www.vegansociety.com/go-vegan/definition-veganism

So, it was with interest that I read about a story on Sky News where a customer of NatWest had been insulted by a call handler in relation to vegan beliefs:

NatWest call handler told customer: ‘Vegans should be punched in the face’

http://news.sky.com/story/natwest-call-handler-told-customer-vegans-should-be-punched-in-the-face-11641268

What if the call handler had uttered a homophobic, racist or sexist remark to the customer? I don’t think we would hesitate to label such remarks as unlawful discrimination and claim confidently that they would be potentially actionable in the courts.

Regular readers of this blog will already be aware that there is a case, currently before the Central London Employment Tribunal, where a vegan (Jordi Casamitjana) is claiming that his beliefs should have the status of a protected characteristic in terms of Sections 4 and 10 of the Equality Act 2010. I am certainly awaiting the Tribunal’s decision with interest.

A link to an article in The Independent about Mr Casamitjana’s case can be found below:

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/vegans-discrimination-equality-act-case-tribunal-jordi-casamitjana-a8664551.html

Defining beliefs as a protected characteristic

It will be recalled, that I discuss the concept of philosophical beliefs in Chapter 7 of Introductory Scots Law. The law relating to philosophical beliefs tends to be quite fluid and is often difficult to pin down. This means that disputes about whether or not beliefs are protected under the Equality Act 2010 will often be decided on a case by case basis.

Grainger plc v Nicholson [2010] IRLR 4 is a very important case for this reason.

Tim Nicholson brought a claim against his employer, Grainger plc, a company involved in the development of residential property. Nicholson, who was Head of Sustainability at Grainger plc, alleged that he had been unfairly selected for redundancy by his employer because of his belief in the dangers of global warming and climate change. Nicholson was particularly vocal in his concerns that a company like Grainger had to promote environmental concerns as part of its business activities. The company had published environmentally friendly policies, but its alleged willingness to permit its executives to use certain types of vehicles which contributed to an increase in global warming suggested that there was contradiction between the company’s statements about its commitment to environmental issues and their actual implementation. The beliefs of Nicholson and his willingness to state these openly appeared to clash with his employer’s business objectives and this led Nicholson to conclude that he had been unfairly selected for redundancy.

Grainger plc attempted to have Mr Nicholson’s claim struck out on the grounds that his belief in environmental concerns was not a philosophical belief which was protected by UK equality laws.

Held: by the Central London Employment Tribunal at a Preliminary Hearing, that Mr Nicholson’s belief in environmental issues did fall within the meaning of a philosophical belief. This, however, was a procedural victory (albeit an important one) for Mr Nicholson who would still be in the position of having to convince a full Hearing of the Employment Tribunal that he had suffered discrimination in respect of these beliefs. On 3 November 2009, the Employment Appeal Tribunal concurred with the Tribunal’s finding that climate change could be capable of being a philosophical belief. In order to succeed in his claim, Nicholson still had to prove that his belief was “a weighty and substantial aspect of human life and behaviour”. A belief which demonstrates “a certain level of cogency, seriousness, cohesion and importance” and this belief is ultimately “worthy of respect in a democratic society, [that it] be not incompatible with human dignity and not conflict with the fundamental rights of others”.

Following the Grainger decision, an amendment was made to the law (and now contained in the Equality Act 2010), that it is unlawful to subject individuals to less favourable treatment on the grounds of their philosophical beliefs and it is immaterial whether or not these beliefs are considered similar to a religious belief. This is a highly significant development which demonstrates quite clearly that the Equality Act is not just confined to the protection of religious beliefs.

Conclusion

As I have previously noted, the trouble with the Grainger decision (and others like it) is that it has opened up a new whole area of complexity (or a can of worms) in attempting to determine when a belief is a philosophical belief worthy of legal protection.

Whether veganism is a system of beliefs deserving of the protection of the law remains to be seen. In any event, perhaps Natwest should be looking at disciplining this particular employee for the reputational damage clearly done to its brand. Whatever people think about the merits of veganism as a protected characteristic or not, most of us would be pretty appalled by the alleged treatment given out to the customer.

For students of employment law, would such conduct amount to a potentially fair reason for dismissal? Discuss.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, February 2019

Philosophical beliefs (or you’d better believe it!)

Photo by Ross Sneddon on Unsplash

Unlike religious beliefs, which tend to be more easily recognised under the Equality Act 2010, a person’s philosophical beliefs can be something of a grey area This means that it can be very difficult for employers and service providers to identify when someone has a genuine belief which is protected by law.  

Section 4 of the Equality Act 2010 recognises that a person can be subjectedto unlawful, less favourable treatment (discrimination) owing to certainbeliefs which they possess.

Section 10 of the Equality Act defines religion and beliefs:

(1) Religion means any religion and a reference to religion includes areference to a lack of religion.

(2) Belief means any religious or philosophical belief and a referenceto belief includes a reference to a lack of belief.
(3) In relation to the protected characteristic of religion or belief—

(a) a reference to a person who has a particular protectedcharacteristic is a reference to a person of a particular religion or belief;

(b) a reference to persons who share a protected characteristic is a reference to persons who are of the same religion or belief.

In Lisk v Shield Guardian Co Ltd and others ET/3300873/11, anemployee was told that he was not permitted to wear a poppy while at work. Theemployee, an ex-serviceman, argued that by wearing the poppy he wascommemorating the sacrifices of those killed in armed conflicts. The EmploymentTribunal disagreed with the employee’s argument that his decision to wear apoppy while at work was a legitimate philosophical belief.

Yet, in earlier decision: Grainger plc v Nicholson (2010) IRLR 4the Employment Appeal Tribunal established that Nicholson’s belief in climate changecould constitute discrimination on the grounds of a philosophical belief.

Similarly, in Hashman v Milton Park (Dorset) Ltd (t/a Orchard Park) ET/3105555/2009 a prominent animal rights activist (Joe Hashman) was deemed to have been dismissed unfairly by his employer by reason of his philosophical beliefs i.e. his belief in the sanctity of all life, both human and animal.

Recently, some interesting cases have come before Employment Tribunalsdealing with the issue of philosophical beliefs.

In one case, Christopher McEleny an SNP Councillor won a pre-Hearing Review which established that a belief in Scottish independence could constitute a protected characteristic in terms of the Equality Act 2010.

Please see a link to the judgement of the Employment Tribunal:

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/5b6c8c5bed915d310f7fcd07/Mr_C_McEleny_v_Ministry_of_Defence_41053472017_OPH.pdf

In the second case, Jordi Casamitjana, has taken his former employer, the League Against Cruel Sports to an Employment Tribunal alleging that he had been subjected to discrimination on the grounds that he is a vegan. He alleged that he had been dismissed from his job because he had revealed that his employer had allegedly invested pension funds in organisations which carried out animal testing. At the time of writing (January 22, 2019), it remains to be seen whether Mr Casamitjana will be successful in his legal action.

Veganism, as a belief system which should be recognised and protected by law has divided opinion as the final BBC report demonstrates.

Independence views ‘protected by law’

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-45075801

Support for Scottish nationalism should be protected by law, a tribunal judge rules against the Ministry of Defence.

Sacked vegan claims discrimination in landmark case:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-46385597

Finally, the controversy over veganism as a belief system continues to attract headlines in the media as the BBC article (below) demonstrates:

Waitrose Food: Editor William Sitwell resigns over ‘killing vegans’ row

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-46042314

The company said his suggested series on “killing vegans one by one” had “gone too far”.

Conclusion

Mr McEleny’s case and Mr Casamitjana’s case clearly demonstrate the difficulties that employers will have when it comes to a person’s philosophical beliefs.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 22 January 2019