Veganism = Discrimination?

Photo by Ivana Milakovic on Unsplash

Regular readers of this Blog will be aware that several of my previous articles have examined whether veganism could be a protected characteristic (a philosophical belief) in terms of Section 10 of the Equality Act 2010.

We still await the decision of the London Employment Tribunal in relation to the case of Jordi Casamitjana v League Against Cruel Sports (lodged in December 2018) which will give us a first indication as to whether veganism is capable of being a protected characteristic in terms of the Equality Act.

A link to an article on the BBC website about Mr Casamitjana’s claim can be found below:

I saw this on the BBC News App and thought you should see it:

Sacked vegan claims discrimination in landmark case

A landmark tribunal will decide whether veganism is a “philosophical belief” akin to a religion.

In the meantime, Crossland Solicitors (an Oxfordshire based law firm) have carried out some really interesting research concerning the issue of vegan beliefs and work-place discrimination.

Nearly 1,000 employees and 1,000 employers took part in the research. The conclusions from this exercise are that nearly 45% of employees are of the opinion that they have experienced less favourable treatment due to their beliefs and nearly a third of respondents felt that they had been actively victimised by their employers because of their veganism. It seems to be the case that a large number of employers take the view that veganism is a fashion trend or a fad as opposed to an ethical and philosophical set of views which guides people in their daily lives.

Hopefully, the London Employment Tribunal will issue it’s decision in the very near future about Mr Casamitjana’s claim in order to provide some needed clarity to this area of the law.

A link to the research on Crossland’s website can be found below

https://www.crosslandsolicitors.com/site/cases/nearly-half-of-vegans-feel-discriminated-against-at-work

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 12 May 2019

The Vegan Athlete

Photo by Miika Laaksonen on Unsplash

Over the last few months, articles about veganism have cropped up pretty regularly on this Blog. It’s certainly a way of life for many people, but we still await a legal ruling from the Employment Tribunal as to whether it can be a protected, philosophical belief in terms of the Equality Act 2010 (see Casamitjana v The League Against Cruel Sports lodged at the end of 2018).

In any event, there still seems to be a lot of reservations about veganism as a lifestyle (and a philosophical outlook).

An interesting article appeared on the BBC News website about an athlete who had chosen to become a vegan. Many people criticised this decision (could a vegan compete successfully at this level?), but here’s a young man (Ross Mackay) who bases some pretty important life decisions around his vegan beliefs. Mackay is certainly experiencing and having to overcome a lot of prejudice when many in sporting circles emphasise the importance of meat as a source of protein in order to aid performance.

‘You can succeed as a vegan athlete’

After playing international tennis in his teens, Ross Mackay says he really learned about food when he became vegan.
The vegetarian cyclist

It reminded me of the reaction of many in Europe when the American cyclist, Jonathan or ‘Jacques’ Boyer started to compete in big races. In 1981, he was the first US rider to take part in the Tour de France, taking part five times and his best ever finish was 12th in 1983). Boyer was famously (or infamously – depending on your point of view) a vegetarian. To the French, Boyer’s US nationality was slightly less controversial than his diet (He didn’t eat meat and ate a lot of nuts and berries). Even his own directeur sportif (manager or head coach) Cyrille Guimard spoke of Boyer in slightly disbelieving terms – un marginal i.e. French for a hippy, an outsider or something approximating these attributes. As Ross Mackay would attest, it seems that attitudes in sport haven’t changed a lot in the intervening years.

A link to a short YouTube video where Boyer talks about his experiences of racing in Europe can be found below (Spoiler alert: Boyer refers to Lance Armstrong before he was exposed as a cheat).

Photo by Simon Connellan on Unsplash

Even Peter Sagan, 3 time Tour de France green jersey winner and 3 time world champion keeps his veganism fairly quiet.

Copyright Seán J Crossan, 21 April 2019

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

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’

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:

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